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Sat, Aug. 24

C-OC board looking at keeping all schools open

COTTONWOOD - The Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Governing Board is looking at ways to keep all five of the district's schools open. To that end, the board met in a study session Tuesday afternoon to discuss the district's budget.

Superintendent Barbara U'Ren and Director of Business Services David Snyder took the board through several scenarios, some of which might prevent the closure of any of the district's five schools.

Randall Garrison, board president, opened the study session with a statement: "Cottonwood-Oak Creek is in no way in negotiations with Mingus Union to take over Oak Creek School."

That statement was in response to a news story about an item on the Mingus Union High School Governing Board's meeting agenda, also scheduled for Tuesday. That item was discussion and possible action regarding a letter to C-OC regarding MUHS possibly operating Oak Creek School for a limited time.

The PowerPoint presentation that U'Ren and Snyder gave the board made it clear that C-OC isn't considering turning over any of its schools to outside interests. The presentation was designed to show how the district might keep Oak Creek and Tavasci Elementary schools open.

U'Ren said that the structure of the district will depend largely upon whether the Arizona Legislature approves Gov. Jan Brewer's proposed budget. That budget is not as dire for education in the state as were earlier various predictions of how education funding would be cut in the next budget.

"Overall, her budget is good news," U'Ren said. But she cautioned that Brewer's budget is only a proposal right now and has not been approved by the legislature.

If Brewer's budget is passed, funding should stay flat, maybe for three years. That likely would mean that C-OC district would not face the $1.5 million shortfall next year that was expected.

But several assumptions are included in U'Ren's scenarios. One is that the district's enrollment (Average Daily Membership) will continue to decline for three years. That is based primarily on the fact that the district will be graduating large eighth-grade classes and replacing them with smaller, incoming classes.

The known loss of revenue from reduced ADM will be $750,000 for 2011-2012. In 2012-2013 another $320,000 will be lost to ADM, and in 2013-2014 the district's loss of ADM will cost the district $400,000.

Another assumption is that in 2013-2014 the district will lose another $400,000 because the temporary 1 percent sales tax passed by voters with Proposition 201 will be lost.

The third assumption is that the district's fixed costs - for retirement, insurance and utilities - will go up. But the district is figuring those fixed costs at $200,000 per year through 2014.

Those assumptions give the district projected total deficits of $950,000 in 2011-2012; $520,000 in 2012-2013; and $1,000,000 in 2013-2014.

U'Ren pointed out some considerations for future needs. Carry-over from previous years can be utilized to offset reductions. The district currently has $500,000 in carry-over funds. Cash funds also may be utilized to offset reductions, and the district sets that amount at $275,000 annually.

Budget shortfalls beyond 2013-2014 may be handled through further reductions in support services, elimination of exploratory classes and/ or increases in class size. "That's throughout the district," U'Ren said, "including the district office."

Four options on the future structure of the district were covered during the study session: keep all schools open; close Tavasci Elementary; close Oak Creek School; close Oak Creek School and Tavasci Elementary School.

If Oak Creek School is kept open, two options are being considered. One is for the school to remain as kindergarten through eighth grade. The other is to change it to a kindergarten through sixth-grade school.

It is expected by the district that closing Oak Creek School would result in a mass exodus of about 100 students who would not return. Those students likely would enroll in charter schools or other public school districts in the area. The hit to the district if 100 students leave would be approximately $500,000 per year.

That amount would be a loss of funding if OCS is closed. But if OCS remains open, that amount would be considered "recaptured" or saved.

If OCS remains open or restructured, some changes will have to be made. The principal would probably be replaced with a head teacher who is not assigned to a class. Office and nurse positions would be restructured, and intramural sports programs would be run with volunteers. The library would depend on a volunteer, and exploratory classes would be reduced to one position.

U'Ren also said that keeping OCS open either as K-8 or K-6 does not include competitive sports at the school.

Utility savings would require that unused classrooms and buildings be closed. The school district would depend on help from the community in marketing the school.

Along with keeping all schools either restructured or open, the district is trying to reinstate full-day kindergarten. But other reductions to support programs would be required, including smaller class sizes, budget cuts to the district office, cuts to custodial services and secretarial services, cuts in the number of nurses and counselors. Computer instruction also would probably be reduced.

Following the PowerPoint presentation by U'Ren and Snyder, board member Jason Finger said he likes the option of keeping all the schools open, if it can be done efficiently.

Finger said the district cannot just react to the current budget situation. "We must have a vision of where we want this district to go," he said. He said he hates the idea of closing Tavasci Elementary because the school is operating at its designed capacity, the school is successful and the staff is cohesive.

Snyder said that if all schools remain open it probably will mean that Dr. Daniel Bright, Cottonwood Elementary and Tavasci schools all operate as kindergarten through fifth grade.

Near the end of the discussion, Garrison said the board does not know what the state is going to do with its budget and education funding. He said the board still does not have a clue how to plan for an unknown.

"We're getting ahead of ourselves," Garrison said.

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