(Editor's note: The school district will hold a special maintenance and operations override election on May 18 in conjunction with the regular general election. This is another in a series of articles designed to give the voters the background information needed to make an informed decision.)
One of the more persistent rumors regarding Payson's schools is that administrative costs are much higher than they need to be.
According to a state analysis, just the opposite is true.
The second annual analysis by the Office of the Auditor General of the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom shows that Payson Unified School District's administrative costs are actually on the low side compared to the 13 Arizona school districts closest in size.
Administrative costs for PUSD include the salaries of the superintendent, directors of curriculum and special education and their staffs, the business office, and the individual school principals and their staffs.
The analysis showed that PUSD spends $521 per student on administrative costs, or 24 percent of total per student spending of $2,148. Of the 13 districts compared to PUSD, only Kayenta at 19 percent and Tuba City at 22 percent spent less on administrative costs. Districts also spending 24 percent included Page and Winslow.
Districts spending more than 24 percent included Window Rock, Coolidge, Santa Cruz, Whiteriver, Fountain Hills, Chino Valley, Blue Ridge, Show Low and Snowflake. The average administrative spending of all 14 districts was 26 percent, with Fountain Hills at 36 percent ($743 per student) spending the most.
PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels is not surprised that public perception is so different from the actual numbers.
"That's the perception anyplace," he said. "You hear it all over. Last year, an investigative reporter on one of the TV channels went after all the (administrative) salaries down in Maricopa County to show how high they were."
The analysis, which covers spending in fiscal year 2002, shows that PUSD ranks in the upper echelon of the 14 districts in percentage of each dollar spent in the classroom. At 60.8 percent, Payson ranked third behind Blue Ridge (63 percent) and Show Low (61.4 percent) in classroom spending. Tuba City at 47.7 percent spent the lowest percentage.
PUSD also fared well in all other spending categories, including:
- Student Support Services (such as counseling, attendance, libraries, nurses) -- PUSD spent $455 per student, fifth highest among the 14 districts. Whiteriver was highest at $540, Fountain Hills was lowest at $196, and the average of all 14 was $382.
- Instructional Support (which includes teachers' aides) -- Payson spent $186 per student, eighth among the 14 districts. Kayenta was highest at $531, Chino Valley was lowest at $61, and the average was $252.
- Plant Operations (including maintenance) -- PUSD spent $617 per student, fifth lowest among the 14 districts. Kayenta was highest at $1,380, Santa Cruz was lowest at $515, and the average was $806.
- Transportation -- At $146 per student, PUSD spends the second lowest of the 14 districts on transportation. Kayenta was highest at $586, Winslow was lowest at $136, and the average was $295.
- Food Service -- PUSD was second lowest among the 14 districts at $214. Kayenta was highest at $404, Snowflake was lowest at $209, and the average was $292.
Weissenfels said the analysis shows that PUSD has its priorities straight.
"When you look at our numbers compared to similar districts, we do a very good job of being very tight and putting every penny possible into the direct education of the children as opposed to sideline services," he said. "Notice our percentage was high in the support services, which means we do a lot to provide nurses, librarians and counselors, whereas other districts don't put as much money into those positions."
The analysis also included a comparison of teacher salaries. At an average salary of $36,216, PUSD ranked seventh among the 14 districts and just above the average of $36,024. At $45,349, Fountain Hills has the highest average salary, while Whiteriver at $31,069 was lowest.
The figures dispel another common myth -- that Payson's teachers are the lowest paid in Arizona.
"We are probably just a little bit below the middle overall, but you have to be careful of how you consider us," Weissenfels said. "Our average includes all of the things that teachers get including career ladder, performance pay, and any other supplemental salary. Every other school doesn't have career ladder, for example, so it's not a salary schedule to salary schedule comparison.
"If we just go straight salary, we're several thousand dollars below those we have to compete with the hardest, and that really is Maricopa County. It's 80 miles away, but people will drive it."
State statute requires the auditor general to monitor the percentage of each dollar spent in the classroom and conduct performance audits of Arizona's school districts.