Prop 301 revenue<br>funds below par

GC VILLAGE — The Grand Canyon School Board may have to change a few things around with its classroom site fund budget to protect approved teacher salaries.

School districts and charter schools around the state find themselves coming up short because of insufficient funds to cover the schedule classroom site fund amounts. Allocations have been reduced proportionately.

"It’s strongly being suggested at this time that if we’re going to be able to meet our budget, and this is what many districts are now doing, is go back and look at what we received during the first three months and based on that, project forward to determine what will be available the rest of the year," Grand Canyon School superintendent Ray Vernon told the school board last week. "By doing that, our projected allocation would be $126,650.

In the school budget, the classroom site fund was calculated at $144,175, an amount Vernon said was "conservative." Based on original projections, the actual allocation was expected to be $168,000, so the budgeted number represented about 85 percent of that total.

"Anything we do at this point in time does not change the budget, it’s changing spending plans," Vernon said. "Talking to the people at ADE (Arizona Department of Education), it’s a very frustrating dilemma because ... we could be changing our spending plan every month or two."

The Sept. 11 attacks negatively impacted tourism on Arizona, the state’s most productive industry. Grand Canyon received $31,960 total for its first three classroom site fund payments. Predictions about future payments can be made, but the numbers coming in for the first three months were below expectations.

Lyle Friesen, ADE’s director of school finance, said each district’s payments are calculated using a weighted attending student count. The amount collected in tax revenues is forwarded to ADE for distribution.

Chuck Wahler, school board president, said he’s concerned over assumptions being made on actual amounts to be received. "Why should we assume we’ll receive equal checks?" he asked.

Bonnie Haven, the school’s financial assistant, said ADE will not commit to any specific amounts coming in for each payment, adding that districts should budget at 75 percent of the original estimates.

"The end of October check was slightly higher than September," Vernon added. "The rule of thumb the state is suggesting is budgeting at 75 percent. We budgeted very conservatively initially, otherwise the hit would be much more severe."

There could be some changes necessary in two of the three areas, or "buckets" as they’re referred to by the district, of the classroom site fund. Vernon said there will be funds in the third bucket, discretionary menu items, that could be used for teacher salaries.

Some school districts, but not Grand Canyon, committed 100 percent of their amounts in their third bucket and now face a dilemma.

"Those districts that placed 100 percent of the last bucket are looking at real issues of meeting their salary schedules," Vernon said. "We should be able to maintain the integrity of our salary schedule ...."

Locally, the district budgeted $28,835 out of the discretionary fund to be used toward salaries. Other budgeted areas include Literacy First training for K-3 teachers, general staff development, interventions for grade 7-12 students not passing standards and a new teacher mentoring program.

The second bucket, which involves performance pay, will also create more funds. Vernon said based on the numbers, there should be about $3,000 available there.

"The concern I have is we go through this exercise tomorrow night (a scheduled meeting with the Prop 301 committee) and have this conversation and then next month, the money goes up," Wahler said. "And then next month’s money goes down. It seems to me that ... next year, we budget a whole lot less than we anticipate or we’re going to go through this nightmare constantly. It sounds like you and me are going to be sitting in a meeting tomorrow afternoon and don’t know how much we’ll have, and that’s scary."

The Prop 301 committee did meet the next day, however Vernon said there was no news to report beyond what was discussed at the school board meeting.

Performance pay plan commitments concerned the board. Vernon said that a month ago in a meeting with the Prop 301 committee, they were informed of the reduced tax revenue projections. At the time, it was decided that no performance pay assignments were to be passed on to other teachers and that’s where an additional $3,000 was created. Vernon added that it appears more money will be available out of other areas, such as a likely hit for staff development.

The talk over percentages did create confusion for the board during the discussions. Wahler asked if the state was directing districts to revise budgets at a rate of 75 percent of expected classroom site fund revenue. Haven replied that a budget revision was not necessary, only changes to the spending plan.

"They don’t want it to be a spring on your teachers," Haven said. "They want your teachers to be aware that they’re looking at 75 percent of the $168,000 of being approximately of what we here at the school are going to get."

After further discussion of numbers and what amounts should be reported to teachers, Vernon said there will be no secrecy involved with any information.

"We don’t want to appear that we’re hiding anything," Vernon said. "We’re not changing the budget. I guess now we’ve found out that you cannot develop a spending plan for 301 based on the amount you’re going to get in a given year. It’s always based on revenue generated monthly by sales tax revenue."

Wahler said teacher contracts were written to state that salaries would be reduced if the money does not come in. "Nobody assumed that was going to happen," he said. "I agree with Ray, we’ll make every effort possible to maintain that salary schedule this year and I think we’ll be able to do that."

A revised spending plan based on the 75-percent figure will be brought back to the board.

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