Amphitheater School District is expecting to operate with $6.6 million less revenue than it has for the current fiscal year, and the decline for fiscal 2010-'11 could approach $16 million if a May 18 sales tax increase is defeated, according to Superintendent Dr. Vicki Balentine.

"It is very likely that actual cuts will exceed this amount," Balentine said in a March 1 letter to district parents.

The $6.58 million revenue reduction may be "closer to $7.2 million," given unknowns in the budget, according to Scott Little, Amphi's chief financial officer. With "the complexities of the budget  … the number could be reasonably in the $7.2 million range in the best-case scenario."

Amphitheater's current general fund budget is near $105 million. The smaller decrease would represent approximately 6 percent of district revenue, Little said in a Tuesday interview.

Balentine cited specific, anticipated reductions of $929,500 to ease the effects of inflation, approximately $3 million to purchase textbooks, computers and equipment, $942,000 for gifted education, summer school, after-school tutoring and preschool programming, $2.64 million for all-day kindergarten, and $5.71 million for building renewal.

"Next year will be the fourth consecutive year of significantly reduced or no funding for maintenance and repair for our buildings and grounds throughout the district," Balentine said, "more than $16 million total lost for maintenance of our district schools in that four years."

The state plans to delay its payments to schools by another month, causing a "cash flow disruption" for Amphi of $3.5 million. "This requires the district to borrow from and pay interest to a bank until the state releases our funds," Balentine said.

"The legislative budget proposals are too numerous to detail here, but include many cuts in addition to those proposed by the governor, including decreasing the number of school days per year and eliminating specific components of the education funding formulas," Balentine wrote.

For perspective, "and by way of example only," $6.58 million pays for the cost of 165 jobs, Balentine said. That sum also covers 18 months of utility expenses for half the district's schools. "Suffice it to say, these budget cuts will be incredibly difficult for our district," Balentine wrote.

"Even more alarming than the cuts already proposed is the prediction that yet more cuts will be required," she continued.

Gov. Jan Brewer has projected an additional 20-30 percent decrease to K-12 funding —for Amphi, approximately $15.347 million or the equivalent of 384 positions — if the May 18 ballot question regarding a three-year, 1 percent sales tax increase is defeated.

In the scenario of a sales tax defeat, Amphi would have between $13 million and $15 million less in revenue for the fiscal year that begins July 1. "We're talking substantial numbers," Little said, calling it a nearly 15 percent reduction.

"No decisions to cut any jobs or programs have been made at this point," Balentine emphasized. "This example is only offered to put the number in a scale of reference."

Little said the figures are "the best numbers we have right now.

"None of us are safe while the Legislature is in session," Little said. "There's any number of things they could still do. When you really get into the intricacies of how they built that budget, there are some complexities to all of that. There's nothing there that gives me any confidence they couldn't come back and revisit things."

"As we continue to navigate through these rough waters, it is critical that you become involved," Balentine urged district parents. "Let the community and the governmental leadership in Arizona know your priorities for K-12 education and for your children specifically. Your involvement is absolutely essential. I cannot emphasize that enough."

"The real purpose here is to get the information out so parents are aware of it," Little said. "Here's what we are facing, with or without the sales tax. We cannot go out and advocate for the passage of this sales tax. We can inform the parents of the impacts of what happens in either situation."

In her close, Balentine wrote that "our children will learn a great deal from us as we respond to this adversity. We must, therefore, move forward in a positive and constructive way, with strength and solidarity of purpose."


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