- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - More than 200 school district superintendents signed a joint letter sent this week to legislators to express deep concern about how Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal would cut K-12 school funding, and some superintendents also sent emails urging parents to weigh in as well.

“For the past six years, in order to balance the state budget, the majority of Arizona’s classrooms have been shortchanged by the actions of our elected officials,” the superintendents’ joint letter stated. “During this time, classroom teachers, principals and district leaders have been burdened with ever increasing requirements that further erode the instructional time and direct services available to our classrooms. To this end, we ask you to adopt a budget that does not cut funding to K-12 district schools.”

When he unveiled his budget proposal in January, Ducey touted it as putting $134 million more into classroom spending. However, its numerous additions, subtractions and transfers added up to a $15 million decrease of school funding overall, detractors argue.

“You might have read or heard that Gov. Ducey wants to ‘protect the classroom,’” Michael Cowan, superintendent of the 64,000-student Mesa Unified District, said in an email to parents and staff. “He says his budget will increase funding to the classroom by 5 percent. Many have naturally assumed he was increasing the funds available for teachers and classrooms. But that’s not accurate.”

Roger Jacks, superintendent of Kingman Unified, said his district already is lean and doesn’t have many places to cut.

“I hope this letter makes a difference,” Jacks said. “It’s a really big statement that 200-plus superintendents came together and said ‘Please don’t do this to us.’”

Cowan said approval of the proposed cuts would affect transportation, health services, libraries, security and school staff such in his district.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said his boss is trying to prioritize state spending at a time when cuts are needed to help balance the budget.

“The governor believes it is vital to get as many dollars to the classroom as possible … to get more dollars where they matter,” Scarpinato said.

Regarding hardships that might result from cuts in non-classroom funding, Scarpinato said, “We’ve seen opportunities to redirect money in many districts.”

Besides Mesa, other districts that have sent similar messages to parents and staff include ones in Apache Junction, Phoenix, Peoria, Scottsdale and Tempe.

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