The share of its budget Payson schools spend in the classroom per student has shrunk in the past five years, but still remains higher than other similarly-sized Arizona schools, according to a recently released report from the state auditor general.
The annual report compares teacher characteristics, district achievement, and per-student spending at schools statewide.
In Payson, a little more than 57 percent of the total budget goes into the classroom, compared to about 55 percent statewide, and about 61 percent nationally.
Payson’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Bobette Tomerlin said that as costs like utilities and transportation have risen, districts have had to pull money away from the classroom.
Statewide, a drop in classroom-spending has come despite a $300 million jump in classroom-designated funds. The auditor general’s report concluded that higher classroom spending leads to greater student achievement.
In 2009, Payson’s per-student classroom spending dropped about 2 percent from the year before, down to $4,456 — a bit better than similar schools statewide.
By contrast, non-classroom spending like administration, support services and transportation, increased more than 2 percent to $3,334, which is consistent with statewide averages.
Administration, transportation and support costs all increased in the past year while spending on plant operations declined slightly. Food service costs stayed about the same.
Payson spent $722 per student on administration in 2009 — lower than both similar schools and the state average of $729. It also had 52 students per administrator — lower than both the peer group and the state average. Similarly-sized schools reported 61 students per administrator.
Payson reported lower-than-average transportation costs per pupil although it tracked more miles per rider.
The auditor general raised the alarm about the declining percentage of classroom spending, the lowest in the nine years it has monitored classroom dollars.
The report also said many districts are illegally using money designated for the classroom in other places. However, Tomerlin said Payson has followed all the rules.
Districts would spend an average of nearly 60 percent in the classroom if they correctly allocated funds, the auditor general concluded.
The report also showed that while enrollment in the Payson district has dropped by about 112 students over the past five years, the number of teachers grew by about 10.
Tomerlin said increased demands in special education, English as a Second Language and other programs accounted for the increase. Also, the district did not offer all-day kindergarten five years ago.
Payson teachers make $43,600 a year, compared to the statewide average of $45,200. However, the average Payson teacher has 11 years of experience compared to eight years statewide.
Payson also has a lower student-to-teacher ratio with 15.5 students per teacher compared to the 17 students per teacher ratio statewide. That number doesn’t reflect the size of most classrooms — which sometimes near 30 at the high school. The overall average takes into account the very small special education classes.
Payson’s student-teacher ratio has slowly declined since 2006 when, at nearly 18 students per teacher, it ranked about two students above the state average at the time.