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Arizona Schools Wary of State Budget Cuts

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November 6, 2008

Phoenix, AZ – Arizona's projected billion-dollar budget gap gets the attention today of Arizona's governor and legislative leaders. On the chopping block is the state education budget. Education advocates hope school spending gets trimmed, not whacked.

Leaders have tough choices to make, because the biggest part of state spending is for education. Gov. Janet Napolitano wants to protect it.

Janice Palmer, Governmental Relations director of the Arizona School Boards Association, says most of this year's school money is already committed because it's for salaries that were negotiated months ago.

"We have teacher contracts that have to be signed for one year. The school districts are unable to get out of those or to change them mid-year."

Palmer says some money could be saved by delaying new school construction, but that's a relatively small piece of the overall education budget. However, she adds, schools are trying to find creative ways to reduce their spending.

"They're taking a look at textbook adoptions, altering the schedule of ordering new material, shifting some capital monies into the classroom, trying alternative bus routes to cut back some money on fuel usage."

Conservative Republicans say the only choice is to make deep cuts or bankrupt the state. But Palmer contends that after years of state tax cuts, it's time to talk about possible tax increases, because Arizona already is near the bottom in state support for education.

"If a tax increase is put out there, it's not going to be by itself. There'll be some kind of incentive as well for the small businesses and other folks that are really struggling during the economic downturn."

Little support for a tax hike has been seen from either the Democratic governor or Republicans who control the Arizona legislature.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ