Payson Schools’ Budget Continues To Dwindle

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The Payson School Board has adopted a bare-bones budget for the current fiscal year that features a 7 percent drop in overall spending, driven by dwindling enrollment and state cutbacks.

The district’s operations and maintenance budget will drop from $14.7 million to $13.7 million.

The budget takes major hits in some areas — like the 94 percent drop in the district’s support for athletics programs from $12,000 to $700. Fees and ticket sales are expected to make up most of the decline.

The budget also features a 60 percent drop in spending on non-instructional services from $157,000 to $63,000. That mostly reflects an improvement in the ability of the food service operation to break even and so reduce the local match for the mostly federally-funded program.

Spending on special education programs declined about 1 percent to $1.7 million. The district has one of the highest percentages of special education students in the state and the program accounts for about 14 percent of the operations and maintenance budget. State formulas provide substantially more money for each special education student, sometimes four or five times as much per student.

The budget for both vocational and gifted programs has also declined. Spending on the district’s vocational program dropped 17 percent to $329,000. Spending for the gifted program, which received a big boost this year from a active parent support group, next year will drop 56 percent to just $47,000.

The classroom budgets declined by 7 percent to $5.4 million, which mostly reflects the decline in teaching positions. The classroom budget for regular students accounts for about 40 percent of district spending — or 52 percent if you include the classroom spending on special education students.

The budget for various support services like psychologist and speech counselors declined by about 9 percent to $472,000.

The budget for administration declined by 9 percent to $1.7 million. By that calculation, the administrative costs account for about 12 percent of the operations budget, according to district officials.

The district spends about 82 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits, which provides for about 310 jobs — making the school district perhaps the largest employer in town.

The slimmed-down payroll covers 152 certified staff — 138 teachers, 10 administrators and four other positions for things like counselors. The district also employs 141 classified staff, including 45 teachers’ aides, four managers and 92 others.

All told, classroom teachers account for about 47 percent of the jobs in the district.

The budget indicates the district employs one teacher for every 18 students. However, the average elementary school classroom has 22 to 28 students and the average high school and middle school classroom generally has about 30 to 33 students.

That apparent inconsistency stems largely from the district’s many special education classes, where the teacher-student ratio averages one to 12. The student to staff ratio for special education is one to four.

The district has one certified administrator for each 245 students.

Among the non-teaching staff, the district employs one teacher’s aide for every 54 students and one classified staff person for each 143 students.

The final budget came in close to the numbers the administration used in the spending plan that resulted in the closure of Frontier and the elimination about two-dozen staff positions — half of them teachers.

The school board opted to save $200,000 by closing Frontier Elementary School.

The layoffs and closures represented the second year of cutbacks, partly in response to steady declining enrollment and partly in reaction to school funding cuts by the Legislature.

The district also took a hit in various other funds besides operations and maintenance.

For instance, district spending fell by $1 million as the last of a bond issue was used. The bond funds show up in a separate category from the operations and maintenance budget. Money available for textbooks, software and other “soft capital” items fell by 30 percent to $181,000, due to state cuts.

Money for specific projects from the federal government fell by 28 percent to $2 million as a result of federal cutbacks.

The unrestricted capital improvements budget fell by 48 percent to $297,000 as a result of state cutbacks.

On the other hand, the food services budget rose 8 percent to $876,000, largely as a result of the rise in poverty rates in Payson that caused a rising number of students to qualify for the federally subsidized school lunch program. The money available for instructional improvement fell 47 percent to $94,000 and the “classroom site” money available fell 23 percent to $500,000.

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