TUSD faces $10.8 million deficit in 2029, PCC board sets down new chair policy

The Tucson Unified School District looks to be heading for a $10.8 million budget crunch in fiscal year 2029, as coronavirus relief funds evaporate and enrollment is projected to keep dropping, officials say.

During the pandemic, students learned home because the community was trying to stop a virus that was killing 10,000 people a month in Arizona. Precautions were taken.

The choice to save lives came at the cost of academic achievement among school kids across the country. The federal government provided money to hire teaching assistants to help students get caught up. Well, now that money is going away as the rampant mortal danger fades into memory (even though plenty of people are still catching COVID-19).

TUSD got $7.3 million for 113 positions that they will have to cut, or fund out of the district’s normal budget.

Typically, I say don’t use short-term funds to pay for ongoing operational costs. In this case, the district had no choice. They had to hire people on a temporary basis to get a job done. When that money goes away, the district turns into a pumpkin again because this is Arizona and public schools can’t have nice things (like money). There are taxes to cut, people.

Shrinking enrollment is expected to cost between $13.1 million and $42.1 million depending on how much “carry-forward” the district will have handy at the end of fiscal year 2029.

These aren’t the only drivers of future budget deficits. The district also has 26 excess assistant principals and 15 office assistants too many, according to a formula TUSD uses. They come at a cost of $3.3 million. There’s another $4.2 million in deficits buried in the salaries and benefits by staff hired for the purposes of desegregation.

The board will also vote on approval of an updated dress code. There are universal requirements, which include:

  • Hats and other head coverings are not permitted on school grounds except as an expression of religious beliefs.
  • Hats and sunglasses may be worn while outside in the sun for an extended period of time for protection from the sun.
  • Dark glasses may not be worn inside buildings unless a documented health problem exists.
  • Clothing must cover the chest and torso, and must cover buttocks while standing and sitting.
  • Clothing must cover undergarments.Clothing must not be see-through.
  • Clothing must be suitable for all scheduled classroom activities, including physical education, science labs, shop classes, and other activities where unique hazards or specialized attire or safety gear is required.

Further restrictions could be applied by school councils following a vote by 100 percent of parents whose children would be affected by it.

Wait, wait, wait. The school district is requiring that students must cover body parts? And this is done to promote health and safety? No doubt, Moms for Liberty will be as up in arms about this assault on individual expression as they were about mask mandates to fight a pandemic, right? About the only thing they might be upset about is the prohibition of red hats with white writing on them about making someplace something again.

It’s only through forced conformity that these moms can truly be free.

Changes to TUSD employee health insurance plans are also on the agenda, with the district set to eat up to $158.54 more per month to cover each employee. Workers themselves will not see an increase in premiums. 

Employees pay between $21.24 per month for an individual health care plan with a $3,000 deductible to $1,075 for a family on the preferred provider plan. 

Employee contributions to dental and vision plans also go unchanged.

That’s what we get during a worker shortage.

Bylaw changes are up for consideration this week by the Pima Community College District Governing Board. They are striking a requirement that nominees for chair or vice chair have “a demonstrated  compliance with all board bylaws and policies,” plus “a commitment to such continued compliance.” I’m not sure how one would measure “a commitment” or “demonstrated noncompliance.”

It seems like a way for one faction of the board to disqualify another faction. They have that anyway if one faction has three votes to deny someone the position of chair.

Republican Steve Christy is the longest-serving Pima County supervisor and he’s still waiting for Democrats to give him the gavel, and the only qualification to be chair is “get three votes.”

At PCC, they’re also eliminating one “temporary” non-voting member from the board.  Apparently there’s a Temporary Group that could appoint such a person. The existence of such a group raises more questions than it answers.

Then there’s a change in policy that would settle who has the final say about personnel matters when a consensus can’t be formed among an employee committee. That committee wants the board to have the say. Interim Chancellor Dolores Durán-Cerda wants that decision to be hers.

The board will vote on what to do and the discussion is scheduled for just 5 minutes. So this is apparently a done deal one way or another.

The Sahuarita Town Council, meanwhile, will get a rundown on the methodology of an air quality related to a proposed Vulcan hot-mix asphalt plant.

No material was included in the agenda, which is the only item up for discussion during the Monday meeting. However, consultants from Ninyo & Moore will be ready to answer questions related to the impacts of the proposed production facility that has some Sahuarita neighbors more than a little concerned. It’s hot-mix asphalt. It’s gonna raise some questions.

Well, it’s road trip time in Marana.

The town council will be venturing north to the Crowne Plaza Resort in Chandler for the annual town retreat.

They will be living the good life and discussing, over the course of three days, all manner of issues confronting the town in the next year: Budgets, growth, a downtown master plan, employee retention, planning for “North Marana,” future facilities for parks and recreation… name a major town issue and they’ll be discussing it.

My big question is: There’s a North Marana? I’m not asking why they are holding the meeting in Chandler. Well, I am but I’m not. It’s typical for a retreat to be at some location other than council chambers because the council gets to hunker down and study big issues, brainstorming big ideas. Last year, this was held in Wickenberg or some such place. Why go all the way to Chandler? Is this a dis on Oro Valley?

If Marana voters had problems with this sort of SOP, they wouldn’t have been re-electing Mayor Ed Honea since 12 years before statehood.

So. Whatever …

Kindergarden Kops …

Know the problem with school today? Too many kindergartners not acting like the responsible adults we want them to be. I mean, they are fully capable of locomotion, articulating the occasional sentence and conjuring an imaginary friend. They should grow up and take responsibility for their actions.

Well, here comes the Catalina Foothills Unified School District to the rescue with the final reading of a new policy that would allow school administrators to expel students from kindergarten to 4th grade if they bring a “dangerous weapon” to school. Just an FYI, if an object isn’t dangerous, it’s not a weapon. Second, this is the ancient wisdom that goes “If they are old enough to do the crime, they are old enough to do the time.” What’s that? If they are capable of grasping an object?

Shouldn’t comprehending the word “expulsion” be a prerequisite to actual expulsion.

The district would also restrict post-toddlers from carrying “dangerous drugs,” or face expulsion. There are further stipulations but c’mon, they are in kindergarten.

Yes, the policy only applies to students seven years old and beyond. The change in policy is meant to provide the district with more flexibility after a change in state law made it easier to expel these Lunchable-munching hooligans. Apparently, districts could always brand Cookie Monster’s fan club as irredeemable losers. 

If their cognitive wherewithal is not sufficient to pass kindergarten on the first or second try, then maybe don’t treat them as adults.

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a big, old double dip and hire retired teachers through a third-party employment agency and be damned proud to do it. The state restricts districts from rehiring recent retirees, unless it’s through a third party agency.

Given the trouble in hiring and retaining people during the current worker shortage, district administrators appear somewhat frustrated that they must take this extra step at all. “The district needs to be able to retain the loyal and dedicated employees who have helped it continue services to students and the community during the pandemic,” Human Resources Director John Hastings wrote in a memo to the board.

The Amphi board will also get a chance to review contracts for employees new to the district.

Rocking rodeo

The Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board will vote to appoint two new principals.

Assistant Principal Frank Walsh would be promoted to run Flowing Wells High School. Jessical Cenedese would be promoted from assistant to the principal to serve as actual principal at Roderick Elementary School.

The Flowing Wells board will also vote on accepting “Practice of Statistics for the AP Classroom” and “National Geographic US History: America Through the Lens,” after a 60 day public comment period has expired. Shocker. No comments were received.

Meanwhile, down in Vail, the school board will vote on a real estate deal to buy 25 acres of land as part of the Rocking K South development. The property on Rocking K Loop has been offered to the district for the low, low price of $5.6 million.

District voters have approved a $61.3 million bond that will pay for the construction of a new K-8 school slated on the parcel.

Just an interesting aside, the Rocking K rezoning was approved in the early 1990s, when developers were on a winning streak. A period followed since the late 1990s and early 2000s when the tide turned against developers and it became standard for developers seeking a sizable rezoning to donate land for a school.

The Rodeo Parade is nigh, and the Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board will get an update on the route and times.

Why not just give readers a similar heads up? Trust me, drivers want no part of having to traverse the oldest non-mechanized parade in the country.

It starts Feb. 22 at 11 a.m. Roads will be closed from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The route starts on East Irvington Road at South Nogales Highway and proceeds to South Liberty Avenue and then south to East Drexel Road, where it runs back to South Nogales and back up to Irvington at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.

This will mess with traffic in the district but Sunnyside schools are closed on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23.