Facing the prospect of much-reduced revenues, Marana Unified School District Superintendent Doug Wilson told patrons at a Monday forum “there isn’t anything we aren’t considering cutting.”
The MUSD budget alert community forum at Mountain View High School garnered dozens of concerned parents, teachers and students. It is in response to the Legislature’s January passage of a bill that takes $133 million out of current K-12 education budgets statewide — $1.625 million to MUSD — and the possibility of larger reductions in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
If larger cuts are imposed by the Legislature with the fiscal year that begins July 1, Wilson said MUSD could face a $14 million cut, 15 percent of the district’s current $78 million budget.
While promising to “keep cuts out of the classroom,” Wilson said that the district “will have to cut jobs next year,” and may do so without regard to the quality of work of staff members.
“For the first time in my career, I’m seeing people who, no matter how good a job they do, will get laid off next year,” Wilson told the forum’s attendees, many of whom were MUSD staff themselves. “That’s our reality right now.”
Cuts could come in the form of eliminating all-day kindergarten in the district, chopping funds to fine arts, and widening class sizes, to name a few, Wilson said.
The most difficult change, Wilson said, would be “the human loss” through cuts to teaching and administration staff, “which would leave gaping holes in many of the district’s programs.”
Dan Contorno, MUSD’s chief financial officer, said the bulk of the district’s spending is on staff compensation — about 80 to 85 percent of it.
Many of the forum’s attendees were emotional and blunt with suggestions for the district. Those who spoke into the microphone passed constantly around the auditorium left virtually no educational front untouched.
Marana High School fine arts junior Jami Diezman shared her concerns about the possibility of reducing the district’s fine arts funding, especially at the elementary-school level.
While she knows “with the budget cuts, sacrifices must be made,” Diezman mourns those possible losses.
“If there hadn’t been a music program in my elementary school, I wouldn’t have found my passion,” Diezman said to applause from her fellow students and MUSD’s fine arts supporters. “I’m afraid that when the district cuts the arts, it will keep kids from sparking their own passions.”
Some decried the administration’s use of cell phones, cars and other “luxuries,” while others, like Pattie Rose, suggested the parents take the brunt of the deficit. Rose detailed a self-crafted plan that would “essentially divide the budget by the number of MUSD students, then absorb it through each individual student by parents’ donations.”
Rose estimated that, under the plan, parents would have about a $200 extra fee that would keep the child in school and “have no effect whatsoever on the quality of MUSD’s education.”
Forum attendee Dan Grossman, whose child is in kindergarten at Estes Elementary, fretted over the possibility of the school cutting all-day kindergarten program. “It would be devastating for students and parents alike,” Grossman said.
He agreed with Rose that MUSD’s parents should shoulder the shortfall rather than simply cope with cuts. “Just tell us what the bill is and we will pay it,” he told Wilson.
One Marana sophomore suggested parents volunteer their time rather than “dole out money that many of them don’t have.”
“Instead of tithing your money, tithe your time,” he said.
Many other students added that, while they accept the inevitability of less money, they think it’s difficult to learn with more than 30 kids in the classroom. They also cited the stresses that such a large group puts on teachers.
“I guess we will get creative,” Wilson said.
Wilson assured those who spoke that cuts “will not affect the classroom” and will allow MUSD’s students to graduate without problems. He can do nothing for those losing district jobs “but to tell you far in advance and to be as fair as possible.”
The superintendent said the forum is intended to “recognize that we are dealing with this deficit and to give the community a chance to speak up.” He hopes a precise figure and detailed plan to deal with MUSD’s budget will be finalized before the state’s April 15 deadline for contract notification to certified staff.
Edited from a previous version.