Scottsdale school district approves weekly early release

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Scottsdale Unified School District students could pay the price in a big budget shortfall.

The school district needs to make up $4 million, and that's coming at the cost of classroom time and teachers' jobs.

The district had a special meeting Friday to take a vote. The motion for weekly early release in elementary schools every Wednesday at 1 p.m. passed 5-0.

The district will also be laying off more than three dozen teachers and 14 administrative staff.

"We have to notify employees this week regarding reductions in force," Superintendent Dr. David Peterson said.

Other things on the chopping block in the district's proposed budget are “specials." Arts, physical education and music would be offered every other day instead of daily.

"This is a very sad situation to have to even look at reducing arts and P.E. and music programs," said George Jackson, a governing board member.

Peterson said they are forced to look at this because of reduced funding from the state and the loss of maintenance and operations override.

“Funding to education has been reduced by over 22 percent and that doesn’t even include the reduction due to our override, and that’s a little over 6.7 percent,” Peterson said.

The vote for reduced arts, music and P.E. comes in June.

"There's hard decisions that have been made, that are being made,” said Denny Brown, the vice president of the district's governing board.

The district hopes the early release every Wednesday will provide time for extracurricular activities to help fill the void, should specials be reduced. The idea is to use grants for enrichment programs including music and arts after that early release.

If the state increases funding for schools, the district said it plans to restore the reduced arts programs and teaching staff.

According to the district, 38 teachers will be losing their jobs. Most of them are music, P.E., and arts teachers.

It’s a decision that teachers said didn't come as a surprise.

"It's frustrating because they're putting in their time and energy and heart and passion to really make a difference for kids, and they feel almost helpless," said Rony Assali, president of the Scottsdale Education Association. "For them, it's really heartbreaking."

Governing board members said the decision did not come easy.

"This isn't what we want. Not a single person in this building or in this district is grateful that this is happening right now," said board member Barbara Perleberg.

"We're making it with sadness," Peterson said. "It is not a good day, but we know that we need to do this to move forward."

The board will be voting on its proposed budget in June.