Two budget hearings were held by the FMUSD and Board to update and gather input from concerned residents last week.

On Tuesday, June 2, the first hearing was held at the Moccasin School.  The second was held Wednesday, June 3 at the Fredonia Schools Media Center.  The school board led the meetings, along with Superintendent Nicholas Bartlett, District Business Manager Dorene Mudrow, and Elementary School Principal Kirk Robinson.

Mudrow began the meetings with an overview of the budget situation. As discussed in previous meetings, the majority of the pending budget deficiencies are due to decreased enrollment, state budget cuts, teacher experience and overrides (which are directly connected to enrollment.)

An additional issue the district is facing is that the state has discontinued the annual funding for building renewal. The district used to receive approximately $250,000 in building renewal funds, but is facing the second year without them.  The state, however, still inspects the schools, requiring certain maintenance and repairs, but does not fund them.  Some competitive grants are available, but funds are limited.

Mudrow reviewed slides showing the steady decline in enrollment over the past several years. She informed attendees that the district tracks the reasons for student withdrawal. The vast majority of the withdrawn students had moved out of the area and were now attending other schools. When questioned about why people were moving away, Mudrow stated that while a full study of the area demographics had not been completed, the current economic crunch and lack of jobs was a likely reason. With recent layoffs from two of the major employers in the area, many families have had to move to other locations for viable employment.

Superintendent Bartlett expressed to the group that this was not just a problem in Fredonia, “all over the State of Arizona there’s a decrease in students.”  School budget crisis are occurring throughout the entire United States. 

The high school’s decreased enrollment, to less than 100 students, has qualified it for a small schools program, which will allow additional budget capacity, but the change will impact taxes without the need for voter approval.

In order to put to rest rumors of overspending by the district, Mudrow explained how district budgets work.  “We are bound by our budget,” stated Mudrow. The district cannot spend more than the budget allows, regardless of savings it has built up. The budget is based on student enrollment. As the enrollment goes down, the budget capacity also goes down.

The savings that the district has built is substantial at approximately $200,000. Historically, the savings has been used to offset taxes for the residents. Unfortunately, the state has recognized this savings as a way to reduce state aide, requiring the district to collect more from the taxpayers. According to Mudrow, because of this, “no matter what decision the board makes, you will see a tax increase…A tax hike is down the road and the district has nothing to do with it.”

Secure Rural Funds, previously known as Forestry Fees or Stump Fees, were also discussed.  The district has been saving the Secure Rural Funds for an auditorium, but is now looking at ways to use it to help in other areas of the budget. They are hesitant to rely heavily on the funds to reduce budget deficiencies because it would not be a permanent solution to the problem. The district will only receive the funds for two more years unless legislation is passed to continue the program.

Attendees were informed that the overrides were due for election November 2009.  The overrides are an integral part of the budget and allow for the K-3 split classes.

Armed with all of this information, the concerned residents at both hearings were asked to form a committee with members from Moccasin, Fredonia, Cane Beds and the Kaibab Paiute Tribe. The committee would be allowed full access to all budgetary information.  Business Manager Dorene Mudrow would also be available for any questions or clarifications. The primary function of the committee would be to review proposed budget cut ideas and brainstorm new ones, then present them to the FMUSD Board.

The idea for the committee came about because, according to Board President Jim Goodnow, “we knew some decisions were going to have to be made and we don’t want to make them alone. We don’t feel comfortable making these decisions without all the public input we can get.”   He continued that “[we are] looking for solutions long term, but are in a time crunch.” 

Once the committee was formed, with two members and an alternate from each area, the group was instructed by Goodnow, “We want to see a mix with different courses of action, bring more than one proposal.”

The committee members were voted on during the regular FMUSD board meeting following the budget hearing on June 3.

The district mailed out information to FMUSD residents on how to voice concerns to legislators.  Check your mailboxes today to let lawmakers know how their decisions are affecting local schools and taxpayers.