Yuma administrators: Lack of state funding directly correlated to fall in classroom spending
Yuma school administrators say that fewer dollars in the classroom, according to a recent report from the Auditor General's Office, are a direct correlation to the lack of funds they are receiving from the state level.
The Arizona School Boards Association echoed that sentiment in its recent analysis of the Auditor General's report on classroom spending for fiscal year 2012.
“Eroding state funding for K-12 education has left a smaller percentage of dollars available for Arizona school districts to dedicate to teachers, including teachers aides and substitutes, general instructional supplies like paper and pencils, instructional aides like textbooks and instructional software, and activities like choir, band and field trips,” stated ASBA. “Despite this, the majority of dollars, including classroom dollars and those for student support and instructional support, continue to be dedicated to improving and supporting student learning.”
Yuma Elementary School District 1 Chief Financial Officer Kerry Jones stated that according to most recent data from the Census Bureau, Arizona provides $7,848 per pupil, which is 35 percent below the national average of $10,615.
“Dollars in the classroom have dropped by 10 percent over the last few years, but from 2008 to 2013 the state cut our budget by 21.8 percent – so No. 1, if we only cut classroom dollars by 10 percent, compared to the 21.8 percent we got cut, I'd say we're doing a pretty good job,” said Jones.
“And No. 2, Arizona cut their education funding more than any other state in the country... There are a lot of factors that go into some of these numbers and the variations in them, sometimes there's a pretty valid reasons for it.”
He noted that higher transportation costs have also diluted dollars that can be used in the classroom.
While District 1 ranked ninth in its peer group of other similarly-sized Arizona districts in terms of classroom dollars spent in the classroom at 50.5 percent, four-tenths of a percent better than last year, Jones said that the other nine districts have things like budget overrides to help increase their dollars.
He said that the top school in its peer group, Kyrene School District in Tempe, has a classroom dollar percentage of 60.2 percent, but they are also receiving $1,319 more per pupil than District 1.
Also, at District 1 the mile per rider calculation is 2.1 miles while the next closest school in the peer group is Kyrene at 1.36 miles per rider.
“In our cost per rider we're the highest in our group because we're carrying students for more miles,” he said.
Yuma Union High School District director of financial services Dianne Cordery noted that the district is also classified as high in transportation costs.
“Even more than our partner districts in the county, we cover the whole county, they don't,” she said. “So we have more area to cover, therefore we have more miles to drive every day. And I would compare that across the state, if you're in Phoenix, you have a smaller area to drive.”
In overall classroom spending, YUHSD went down from 51.9 percent to 51.7 percent in 2012, but not by as much as the state, she said.
“We went down very slightly, but so did our funding, so did a lot of other factors that enter into that, like Proposition 301 funding,” Cordery said.
She added that YUHSD's total spending per pupil was $3,145 in 2011 and $3,316 in 2012 because of fewer students.
“We're spending less overall but more per student,” said Cordery.
In regards to administration costs, she said that the district is spending $442 per pupil, when the state average is $736 and national average is $1,139.
“Last year we were at $473, so I think we are doing really well from a high school district standpoint,” she said.
She noted that food service dollars were also low as well as well as the cost per meal.
“It's all due to Charlene Story,” Cordery said. “We have a nutrition services director that is so frugal and just doing things that are just unheard of across the state and it's showing.”
At the Crane Elementary School District, Superintendent Bob Klee also discussed the dramatic decrease in funding to education from the state while certain costs like utilities and fuel continue to go up.
“As the funds that we receive become less, certain... fixed costs continue to increase so it ends up taking a bigger portion of our budget to continue to provide those things,” he said.
Mike Wicks, executive director of management services for Crane, said that in order to save cost on personnel, buses and fuel in the transportation department, they have staggered the start times of their schools.
“As much as we'd like to be able to start each of our 10 schools at the same time and let them out at the same time, that would take a far greater number of cost for buses and fuel,” he said.
Klee shared that while he supports it and feels it's a direction that Arizona schools should go, another major cost that takes away from classroom dollars is the current implementation the Common Core standards and the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment.
“I have some real serious concerns like the other superintendents across the state... The implementation of the Common Core standards and the requirements of the PARCC test are monumental, not just in the training of staff and the equipment, but just the cost of doing all of that when we're really not receiving any additional resources to do it. Hopefully the Legislature and the governor will see fit to provide some funding to help with that this year, and it looks like they might, but we'll have to wait and see.”
Visit www.azauditor.gov/Reports/School_Districts/School_Districts.htm to each individual school district report. Also, visit www.azsba.org/docs/filelib/Aud_Gen_Classroom_Spending_2012.pdf to view ASBA's analysis of the Auditor General's report.