When newly elected Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick came to Prescott on January 30, 2009 to speak to Yavapai County School Superintendents, before the actual Stimulus Plan was passed, she came with news of funds for schools that was addressed by the bill coming from the House of Representatives. However, that bill came with plenty of strings attached. We asked Prescott Unified District Superintendent Kevin Kapp about the bill at last week's School Board meeting. "The term was called Maintenance of Effort, and supposedly if the budget in Arizona got cut below 2006, we wouldn't get any of the money. All Ann Kirkpatrick said is that she would go back to Washington and do her best to get that language out of there. I don't know if it's out of there or not. We saw something from school business officials around Arizona saying how much Arizona might get in big numbers, and I didn't see any language that says we weren't getting it. So, to be honest, I still don't know for sure."
If they did receive money, would it help with the $500,000 in budget cuts that the district is currently seeking to cut? "That's what we're hoping. Because the language I read today said that some of the money had to go to the States, to assist them in their deficits in regards to state aid to schools which sounds to me like the problem. So, the language I read today was encouraging, because up until then, I thought it was all going to be tied up with Title One and Special Ed issues, and then we wouldn't be able to touch it. The language I saw today, we're very optimistic. And I thought I heard the money is to come within 4 weeks."
So, will the District be able to use the money this year? Kapp shook his head, "I think it's for next year, I haven't heard anything that it's an immediate state aid, but I could be wrong. I'd love to be wrong on that one, to be honest. We can always go back and change it, too. If the Board approves the rainy day fund usage, and other funds come in, they can reverse it. It would be wonderful, it would be the best news of the year."
County Superintendent Tim Carter stated that the budget cuts next year may be as high as $700-800 per student. Is Superintendent Kapp prepared for that? "I have not heard 20% cut. I've heard a 20% overall cut, which would include soft capital and all day kindergarten and everything else. The worst I heard was a 10% cut, which is $350 roughly per student. Our worse case scenario so far is a 10% cut to M & O, which for Prescott Unified is over $2 million."
Kapp understands why the Arizona State Legislature did the cuts they did, however. "I think, in all fairness, they did what they had to do for this year. Even though a mid-year cut has never occurred, I really don't see what else they could have done in this short term, for '08-'09. For future years, there is talk, and even the Governor is talking about opening the door to changes in our tax structure. Because, until Arizona faces the reality of having pretty low property taxes compared to the rest of the states, educational funding won't change. It'll just be this constant battle. So, I think for this year, the legislature did everything they could, for '09-'10, it would be nice if they would open the door to find ways to increase the revenue rather than just cut, cut, cut."
Kapp continued, "Arizona once upon a time, was in the top third of funding per pupil on operating budget, back in the 70's and 80's, and now we are near the end. And when I say that, I mean in actual money per student in operating, because Arizona ranks higher when it comes into building renewal and all the money they put into new schools. But when we talk about the money we have every day to make programs work, Arizona is near the bottom. And I think it's time to look at revenues coming in, as opposed to just cutting, cutting, cuttiing."
Was there anything else the legislature could do? Kapp replied, "I agree, they had no choice this year, they got slammed, and Steve and Lucy Mason and Andy Tobin, they're good people, they're going to try to make it balance out, but they do have to make a budget balance. I don't know, I just hope they look at all options. Just like we, as a school district, this Board, several people tonight said, 'Please, look at all the options.' And I think the legislature should, too, and look at possibly redoing the tax structure here in Arizona, it's probably time."
Editor's Note: The Prescott Unified School District will be discussing a 500,000 budget cut tonight at the PUSD School Board meeting, starting at 5:30 pm. See: Arizona State Budget Cuts Hit Home: PUSD Looks for $500,000