Payson Unified School District is one of 102 school districts in the state that will have to slash administrative expenses if a new legislative proposal is adopted as part of the next state budget.
Payson school officials were uncertain Monday precisely how much the Republican-led plan might carve from the district's $1.2-million administrative budget.
The Associated Press reported a potential loss of $61,132 in state funding to the district, but Payson School District Business Manager Bobette Sylvester calculated the proposed cut at 10 times that. She said Monday she needed more time to verify her calculations before she could confidently estimate how much money the district would stand to lose.
The bill, which is based on a formula that cuts state funding for districts that spend more for administration than the state average, would require Payson's 2,873-student district to trim its administrative budget to 5 percent of its $12-million overall budget, Sylvester said.
"Businesses in the private sector generally average between 15 and 25 percent for administration," she said. "Asking us to go to 5 percent doesn't even follow any strong business philosophies or theories."
The drafters of the plan want to trim spending at many of Arizona's 218 school districts to help pay for the $372-million Students FIRST construction plan the Legislature passed last year, while funneling state funding out of administration and into the classroom. Students FIRST shifts the burden of building, maintaining and equipping public schools from the districts, which relied on property tax funding, to the state.
But Payson School Superintendent Russ Kinzer said he thinks the plan is ill-conceived and could backfire. If the district is forced to eliminate administrators, he reasoned, the teachers will have to pick up the slack. School districts are inundated with state mandates that must be met, he said, and if administrative positions are cut, those duties will fall to the teachers, whittling away at the time they can devote to teaching.
"Teachers need to be free to teach with as little administrative nonsense as possible," he said. "If you reduce administrative staff, you're going to have a certain amount of inefficiency, if not chaos."
The district's $1.2-million administrative budget funds the salaries, benefits, legal consultation services and office expenses for the five-member governing board, superintendent, superintendent's secretary, five principals and their five secretaries, two assistant principals, one assistant principal's secretary, five librarians, one librarian's aide and one director of curriculum.
"Whoever drafted this bill doesn't know anything about the operation of a school district," Kinzer said. "This is so hypocritical. We have the Legislature, which is the source of all the bureaucratic paperwork we're responsible for completing, telling us that administrative costs are too high and they're going to cut it.
"I don't know who they think they're going to get to do their bureaucratic garbage."
Kinzer said the district, which performs salary comparisons every year, pays average to slightly above average administrative salaries. However, districts such as Payson, which have a number of long-term employees who earn proportionately higher salaries than beginning administrators, are penalized by the proposed state formula, he said.
The bill is included in the two-year budget proposed by state's GOP leaders. This is the first year that the state will tackle a biennial budget, a job legislators hope to finish by March.
"Spending more money in the classroom is great," Sylvester said, "but this is a platform that sounds very good, but can't be applied."