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Superintendents: State budget cuts threaten technical, trade education

Superintendents from Pima County's school districts and local business leaders urged voters to challenge state legislators and halt a new round of proposed cuts to Arizona's education budget. 

During a joint press conference at Tucson Unified School District headquarters, the superintendents of TUSD, Vail School District, Sahuarita Unified School District, and Sunnyside Unified School District argued that the proposed cuts would hurt education in the state. 

In a proposal announced this week, Gov. Doug Ducey would require districts to shift money marked as "non-instructional" to instructional spending, cut funding for charter schools, and as a consequence slash funding for career and technical education programs.

"If parents and voters at any time in the past few months felt the urge to contact their legislators regarding the state budget, now is the time," said H.T. Sanchez, superintendent for TUSD.

The budget is moving through Legislature, and could be put to a vote and sent to Ducey's desk in the next few days.

The budget would hit TUSD with $5.8 million in cuts to "non-instructional funds" which would remove support for counselors, school nurses, library staff, school psychologists, and dropout prevention specialists, Sanchez said.

The cuts would also threaten the Joint Technical and Education District, which supports more than 50 programs for students to take classes in area schools to learn technical trades, including automative technology, engineering, culinary arts, nursing services, and communications. 

The proposal takes $30 million from the JTED program, reducing funding available for school districts. As a result, districts would be forced to cover the funding for continuing educational programs. 

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"For every student who walks across the hall into a career and technical education class on our campuses, we will lose $330 in funding," Sanchez said. "That's not the way to encourage our students to become career ready." 

According to an informational handout passed out by TUSD staff, at least 8,000 students are enrolled in JTED classes, so the district could lose around $2.6 million per year because of these programs. 

Calvin Baker, the superintendent of Vail School District, said that his district could lose up to $2.5 million funding due to the cuts. 

Baker said that he agrees with the governor that economic development must be a priority, however he said that the proposed budget would damage some "our most successful efforts to develop a highly skilled workforce," while reinforcing the perception that "Arizona does not value education."

Baker noted that a new school in the Vail district, Andrada Polytechnic, was established around the JTED program just two years ago.   

"This new budget pits institutions against each other," said Ricardo Hernandez, CFO at the Pima County school superintendent's office.

"This proposed legislation will be acted upon very soon and we find it to be disappointing at best and devastating at worst,” said Mike Varney, president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce. 

"From my conversations with business owners and executives throughout this community,  the jobs that JTED trains are in the highest demand in our community right now," Varney said. 

The proposed cuts will also slash funding at the state's three universities and completely cut state funding for Pima Community College. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

H.T. Sanchez, superintendent of TUSD urges voters to urged voters to tell state legislators that proposed budget cuts would 'eviscerate' technical training programs and cost TUSD millions.