Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Last-Minute Attempt by Lawmakers to Gut TUSD's Desegregation Funds

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 3:00 PM

TUSD board meeting. - MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Maria Inés Taracena
  • TUSD board meeting.

There seems to be a last-minute attempt to take money from Tucson Unified School District's desegregation funds. 

This morning, state Sen. Steve Farley announced that the House Appropriations Committee  is taking on an amendment to SB 1120 tomorrow, which would require Tucson and Phoenix school districts to pay for a "forensic audit" of their desegregation spending by the auditor general. The committee would hold the desegregation funds until it reviews the audit.

"That would in effect chop $64 million annually from TUSD and $87 million from PUSD—meaning school closures, teacher firings, and class sizes pushing 50," Farley said on his Facebook. "Bear in mind that both districts are already required by federal judges and court-appointed Special Masters to undergo similar audits on a regular basis."

The amendment is specific to any school districts that get $15 million or more in deseg funding:
A. Notwithstanding section 15‑910, Arizona Revised Statutes, a school district that budgets more than $15,000,000 for desegregation expenses in fiscal year 2016‑2017 may not spend any monies for desegregation expenses in fiscal year 2016‑2017 until the auditor general conducts a forensic audit pursuant to subsection B of this section and until the house of representatives appropriations committee reviews those audit findings pursuant to subsection C of this section.
B. The auditor general shall conduct a forensic audit of any school district that budgets more than $15,000,000 in fiscal year 2016‑2017 for desegregation expenses pursuant to section 15‑910, Arizona Revised Statutes. The audit shall examine the desegregation expenses of that school district for at least the most recent fiscal year, but not more than the three most recent fiscal years, at the discretion of the auditor general. The costs of conducting an audit pursuant to this subsection shall be deducted from the monies that the school district receives for desegregation expenses.
C. The auditor general shall submit the findings of the audit conducted pursuant to this section to the members of the house of representatives appropriations committee. After receipt of the audit findings, the house of representatives appropriations committee may take either or both of the following actions:
1. Refer any evidence of misfeasance, malfeasance, misappropriation of monies or criminal conduct that is demonstrated in the audit findings to the attorney general.
2. Recommend proposed legislation to adjust desegregation funding for that school district or other school districts, or both, as a result of the audit findings."
Amend title to conform.
Farley pointed out that the amendment is the handy-work of the Arizona Tax Research Association, which he alleges are trying to kill public education. He also brought that up at a TUSD board meeting he attended in February to discuss another bill seeking to defund desegregation programs, SB 1371. 

TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez testified against that bill in early February and plans to travel to the House committee's hearing tomorrow and testify against this new proposal. 

(Added after publication):

He has said the district does not oppose an audit. What's concerning is the threat of freezing those funds while a review of such audit takes place.

"TUSD's spending is already scrutinized by a court-ordered special master, the Fisher plaintiffs, the Mendoza plaintiffs, an appointed school budget operations expert and a federal judge," he said in a statement. "We have no concerns about another audit. We just ask that a reasonable timeline be set so that we are not forced to try to meet court-ordered desegregation requirements without the funding we need to fulfill them."

 Sanchez will also discuss a House amendment to SB 1076, which would change the way the state funds schools over the cap on property tax.

"The amendment could mean that districts wouldn't learn about their state funding levels until the school year is halfway over. For TUSD, a loss of $8 to $18 million would have to be absorbed in a matter of months, resulting in drastic cuts to programs, jobs and services," a press release from TUSD said. 

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