Pusd Budget: The Rest Of The Story

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The recent editorial referencing and challenging the Payson Unified School District's 08-09 budget adoption provided readers with a justifiable perspective based on some selected figures and derivations.

Unfortunately, when analysis is incomplete, the conclusions that are then derived may or may not have voracity. I believe this was largely the case with this editorial.

I take no exception with the editor's concern over the percentage of the Maintenance and Operations budget that is dedicated directly in support of the classroom.

What should be pointed out, however, is that Payson is in the top third of all Arizona districts in the percent of dollars that go directly to the classroom.

The travesty of allocating funds for the classroom teachers is not a board issue. The critique, I believe, is misplaced. More funding for teachers is a state issue. Arizona ranks at the very bottom in school funding amongst all states. Connecticut and New Jersey, for example, provide more than twice our level of per-student funding.

Fixed costs such as textbooks, buses, bread and bricks are no more for other states than they are for Arizona. Therefore, a much more significant percentage of their districts' budgets can be directed to support teachers.

I can guarantee the Payson community that, were we to see an increase in per-pupil funding from the state, the PUSD Governing Board would be adamant in directing those dollars to the classroom.

The reality is that we operate in an environment of marginal funding. Our dedicated and hard-working custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, classroom aides, principals and maintenance personnel are far from overcompensated.

Granted, teachers are the core of our district, but without the service and requisite resources for support personnel, our district would come to a screeching halt. In the editorial, the necessity and contributions of these personnel were overlooked.

When we consider that 86 percent of our Maintenance and Operations budget goes to employee salary and benefits, how much real discretion does our governing board have in reallocation of the remainder?

Should we not purchase new school buses when needed and place our children at risk? Perhaps we could stop buying computers and go back to chalk and blackboards?

Is turning down the heat 10 degrees in the winter a viable option to save and redirect dollars? These admittedly facetious retorts are really meant to make a larger and very real point.

There is, in reality, minimal latitude our governing board has to redirect more dollars to the regular classroom and teachers given our funding levels, state and federal mandates and operational realities.

Digging a little deeper into the PUSD budget reveals a much more positive reality than what was presented in the editorial last Tuesday.

When we look at the 12 districts around the state that most closely match Payson in size, there are some interesting comparisons.

Just two of these districts have a higher average for teacher compensation. Both of these happen to be located on federal land and receive a substantial subsidy in the form of Impact Aide to their budgets.

Typically most districts have had to raise class sizes to increase compensation for teachers. Yet, our student-teacher ratio is 15.6:1 compared to our peer average of 16.8. That may not seem large, but it translates to a 12-teacher difference. That is VERY significant.

Maintaining smaller class sizes and keeping salaries competitive to attract and retain quality teachers have both been Governing Board priorities. That these two juxtaposed goals have been achieved is something very few districts have been able to accomplish and is highly commendable.

Is there room for improvement? Always. The editorial referenced paucity in funding gifted education, however, over the last year we have been successful in obtaining formal approval and grant funding for gifted education, allocating $13,000 in the budget this year. Granted, this is not transparent in the admittedly unwieldy budget worksheets that we must utilize and submit to the state.

The reality is that if we are to provide greater financial support to classrooms and teachers, then there needs to be a fundamental restructuring of how K-12 education is funded in Arizona.

Unfortunately, given our current economic climate, this is very unlikely. Until the per-pupil funding formula is increased by the legislature, the District, under the guidance of the Governing Board will continue to effectively develop and manage our budget-as they have done.

Rather than encouraging citizens to call board members to challenge their wisdom in adopting our 08-09 budget, I would counter: call to congratulate them on a job well done.

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