TUSD has found a way to close what was once a projected $17 million budget deficit with the help of some recommendations from employee groups.
The recommendations, which will save the district millions next year, range from increasing caseloads for exceptional-education teachers to tracking bus drivers with GPS to ensure they are being paid for the actual hours worked.
The groups also agreed to increasing employees' share of health insurance costs - an initiative that will not save TUSD any money but helped to prevent the deficit from getting any higher.
Also approved by the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board Tuesday was cutting the number of custodians by modifying the allocation formula, saving the district $2 million.
The cuts were OK'd on a 4-0 vote. Governing Board member Michael Hicks was not present for the vote, having left before the meeting ended.
Those reductions are on top of savings created by the closure of 11 schools for $4.2 million, changes to school funding for $4 million and department cuts for $5.8 million. That has allowed TUSD to cut a total of $17 million from its budget, plus an additional $2 million for its contingency fund.
The employee groups, who represent the teachers and blue-collar workers, were called on last month to bring feasible recommendations to the table after the board decided it did not want to consider outsourcing to eliminate the deficit.
"I'm grateful for the effort put in to reach a resolution on meeting the deficit," TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said. "There were other more difficult options if we couldn't reach consensus. This is a tribute to the employee representatives and our team at central who spent enormous amounts of time to come up with a creative approach."
While the changes help to address the district's financial woes, some are logical in terms of making the district more efficient, Pedicone said.
"We can't get to where we need to be if we're spending money on things we shouldn't be," Pedicone said. "This is really about kids and how we drive the majority of our resources to where they belong."
For example, TUSD never had standards for how many square feet custodians are expected to clean, Pedicone said. Adopting industry standards will allow for fewer custodians.
The same principle applies to school bus routes that were estimated to take a certain number of hours, so drivers were being paid based on that even if the reality is that it takes less time.
The answer to that problem is to equip school buses with GPS to track exactly how long a driver is on the road and pay him based on that, a move that some drivers have opposed.
The GPS equipment will cost $100,000, but the savings are expected to total roughly $600,000, Pedicone said.
Frances Banales, president of the Tucson Education Association union, which represents TUSD teachers, agreed to the budget cuts but was not satisfied with the outcome.
"This seems quick and easy, not something that was thoughtful and would move us into a sustainable plan," Banales said.
A primary concern for TEA was the increase in class sizes and caseloads for exceptional-education students, citing the fact that there is a new teacher-evaluation tool in place and the introduction of the more rigorous Common Core standards.
The exceptional-education class sizes will go from 17 at the elementary and middle school levels to 20; and from 22 to 24 in high schools.
Couple that with rising insurance costs and no raise, and employees are being stretched thin, Banales said.
"With the additional expectations on teachers, the logical thing to do would be to decrease class sizes," Banales said. "All of this just creates an additional burden on our teachers and our students.
"We don't believe this is best for kids, but our teachers will continue on and do their best under these extraordinary circumstances."
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School closures $4.2 million
School funding changes $4 million
Department cuts $5.8 million
case increases $1.5 million
Custodian allocations $2 million
unit changes $1.4 million
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175. On Twitter @Alexis Huicochea