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wendy mcneill, cafeteria manager at kyrene de la estralla elementary school Wendy McNeill, the Cafeteria Manager at Kyrene De La Estralla, a public elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo Courtesy Maya Williams)

Bigger Classes, Smaller Budgets

Arizona school and parks hurt by state budget shortfall

By Maya Williams | December 21 , 2009

Because of mid-year budget reductions, schools like Kyrene De La Estralla, a public elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona, have to get by with less.

Schools are hurting along with other state agencies. A special session of the Arizona state legislature was called this week to deal with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall that could result in the closing of all 27 of the state's parks that are still open. Other parks were closed recently due to budget concerns.

"These are some tough times," Senate Appropriations Chairman Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, told the Associated Press recently.

Estrella has about the same number of staff from last year, but surveys show that classes have increased by an average of three students per class.

"The school does a lot more with a lot less [and] reduces and conserves more," said Principal Jeff Williamson.

The school's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) has pitched in to help.

"The PTO has given teachers money to replenish their supplies," PTO President JaNae Beckstead told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

About 300 families in the district are homeless, although that does not include any students at Estrella.

"Home situations have changed," said Estrella's librarian, Heidi Hellinghausen. "Some kids have had to move in with family or friends." 

Families in the school district can get economic help from the Kyrene Family Resource Center. Also, for kids who don't have money for lunch, the school offers free and reduced price lunches.

"The percentage of kids getting discounted or free lunches has increased by 4 per cent, from 19 per cent of the students to 23 per cent of the students, compared to last year," said Cindy Merrimac, a fourth grade teacher. 

Students qualify for benefits based on their family income, explained Wendy McNeill, the Cafeteria Manager. She also observed "kids are also throwing less food away during lunch time."

Meanwhile, legislators are considering raising the state sales tax by a penny for three years.

"The schools will be hit the hardest in the next round of cuts," said Senator Linda Gray, R-Glendale. "We do not have the revenue coming in."

This is the fourth special session held this year by the Arizona legislature.

Kids and the Economy


Kid Reporters take a look at the economy and how it is affecting kids and their communities during this holiday season in the Kids and the Economy Special Report.

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