/ Modified nov 16, 2012 5:44 p.m.

AZ Week: Beleaguered State of Public Education

TUSD will close up to 10 schools; others seek voter overrides; little state help foreseen

Tucson Unified School District officials are studying which of up to 10 schools to close in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The Sahuarita Unified School District, among many others, is getting by because district voters approved a special tax levy that allows the system to spend $1 million more a year than it gets from the state.

Those are just two of the scenarios playing out in Arizona public schools as they struggle with four years of deep budget cuts and doubtful prospects for increased funding following voter rejection of Proposition 204 last week.

“We’re being told that there’s no indication that revenues are going to increase in the state," Tucson Unified Superintendent John Pedicone said in an Arizona Week interview. "That’s the projection from the Legislature. So we know that we will not be, according to projections, getting any increases at all.”

That means the district must figure out how to cover a $17 million deficit it projects for the 2013-14 fiscal year, a deficit that would have been covered if Proposition 204 had passed, extending the one-cent education sales tax.

For TUSD, it means closure of up to 10 schools and consolidation of their students and programs into other schools, Pedicone said.

The situation isn't as severe in suburban Sahuarita, south of Tucson, although its voters approved a budget override that increased their taxes slightly to provide $1 million for fine arts, physical education and other programs that were going to be reduced or eliminated.

“In our district, which serves over 5,400 students, we’ve experienced a reduction of over $5 million in the last three years,” Sahuarita Superintendent Manuel O. Valenzuela said.

Gov. Jan Brewer said last week after Proposition 204 was defeated that she would seek more educational funding from the Legislature, and a number of legislators have said they would work for the same.

But Pedicone said his business manager just returned from a meeting of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials in Phoenix, where the forecast for the coming school year was bleak.

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