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Districts and charters brace for soaring costs, decreased funding in 2020-2021 school year

Posted at 12:23 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 11:48:10-04

PHOENIX — On June 1 we will have a better idea of what it will take to safely reopen schools for the upcoming school year.

School districts and charters are anxiously awaiting the state's recommendations as their financial future hangs in the balance.

"Are you going to get hit with a tornado? Are you going to get hit with a hurricane? Or are you going to have a real bad rain storm?" said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

A grim forecast for school districts and charter schools, bracing for big hits to their budgets. Essigs says the rising costs of protecting students and staff, coupled with a potential loss of funding if students stay home, could be devastating.

"The number of pupils that you have is determined by your average membership the first 100 days in session," he said. "If there are some parents who decide not to enroll their students in school for the first 20 days as they wait to see what might be happening, or they're trying other things, schools lost 20 percent of their funding."

On average, 85 percent of district budgets go to salaries and benefits. It would be hard to make cuts without touching jobs.

There is a chance the legislature could pass a safeguard to guarantee districts receive a certain percentage of their anticipated funding, even if there is a steep decline in students. However even that, is still unknown.

"At least you have a backstop that would prevent your cuts from getting too drastic, at least you could continue to operate," said Essigs.