CASA GRANDE — Because of state budget cuts, the Casa Grande Elementary School District has been unable to purchase library books for the last six years.
But an increase in state funding has led to more money for capital projects, including buying more library books, but also for much-needed technology improvements.
“By no means does it allow us to keep up our library book inventory or our resource material the way we would like to,” said Tom Wohlleber, chief financial officer for the district.
CGESD’s budget for capital improvements for the 2019-20 school year is $1.8 million, which is an increase of $483,000 from the current year’s $1.32 million.
According to the district’s proposed budget, CGESD is expected to spend $25,000 for library resources. Board President Judee Jackson and board member David Snider agreed that the money was a good start but felt that it should be more.
“That would be great if we could find more money for books,” Jackson said during last week’s Governing Board meeting.
Snider said there’s no magic solution to the problem but encouraged the district’s development officers to consider doing some grant writing.
He also cautioned about writing to publishers — saying that at times school libraries write to publishers saying they don’t care what they send, just send what they don’t want anymore.
“We need to be careful in where we get it,” said Snider, a retired city library director. “I have to agree that $25,000 is low even if it was concentrated in one of our school libraries, it’s still low. Yes, it’s a start, but it’s a minimal start.”
Wohlleber acknowledged to board members that the district needs more money for library books. He added that as the capital budget increases and the state increases funding, this would be an area that would get additional funding.
“One of the challenges is the state classifies library books as well as textbooks as a capital expense,” Wohlleber said. “In my opinion, that is an incorrect interpretation.”
In addition to the $25,000 for library resources, $50,000 is budgeted for playground equipment, which like the need for library books, the money is a start but doesn’t go far enough.
“We have computers and laptops that haven’t been replaced and we have equipment that is so outdated that it can’t keep up with today’s functionality,” Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales said. “But we also have playground equipment that we haven’t been able to replace and we are trying to replace one set of playground equipment.”
The district plans to spend $423,000 for technology improvements, which will include buying new computers and replacing old machines that are close to 20 years old — machines that are running Windows XP operating systems that came out in 2001 and had their last software update 11 years ago in 2008.
As a result, the outdated operating system is not compatible with most current websites.
“We are moving more toward online resources for our teachers and our curriculum is online,” Wohlleber said. “When you are dealing with systems that are Windows XP, it makes it difficult to support the latest versions of internet browsers. It’s not just the machine itself that’s old, but it’s the operating system that doesn’t support putting Windows 10 on the old XP machines.”
Wohlleber added that if the state fully funded the formula that allocates dollars for capital expenditures, the district would be getting about $2.9 million compared to the $1.8 million that it is expected to receive.
Gonzales said that’s a million dollars the district is still short on and the result has been a never-ending cycle of playing catch-up.
“We are still short on the cuts that they made in 2008 and they made so many cuts in that we weren’t able to replace or repair technology equipment for 10 years,” she said. “We have projectors that didn’t get replaced for 10 years. We have old projectors that don’t put out light that we are slowly trying to replace.
“If we were fully funded, then we could fully replace this equipment more rapidly. But we are still just trying to plug away and play catch-up. At that rate we are not going to be able to be in a position to really advance, because as soon as we get caught up, we’re going to be behind again.”
Wohlleber said the state has proposed keeping the funding at the same amount for next year and then reducing it the following year before fully funding the formula by fiscal year 2023.
However, that funding would only return it to the 2008 funding rates and not take into account 15 years of inflation.
The result will be much the same for the district, according to Gonzales.
“Those cuts have really put all districts in a really bad position,” she said.