Schools Cut Budget 5 Percent

Teacher costs take big drop, grant may help cushion blow

Payson Unified School District Office

Payson Unified School District Office Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The Payson Unified School District’s (PUSD) budget for the 2012-13 school year will drop 4.16 percent, reflecting layoffs and a drop in enrollment.

The school board adopted a $14.6 million operations and maintenance (M & O) budget for 2012-13 at its meeting on Monday, July 9.

Overall, the district reduced its expenditures by $650,000 from last year, but that number includes a loss of grants not included in the operations budget.

The budget does include $75,000 to cover things like coaches’ salaries, which last year came almost entirely from donations. However, it also features a 22 percent drop in things like teachers’ salaries, which mostly reflects layoffs and attrition.

The complicated shuffle from one fund to another often made it hard to compare this year to last year, but overall the district’s total spending decline is running just ahead of the worrisome enrollment decline.

Fortunately, things may still improve, since the district last week learned it will receive almost $400,000 in unanticipated money from the federal government.

That grant money wasn’t included in the budget adopted next week, but the district may use it to cushion its razor-thin contingency fund.

“We consciously created more budget capacity, by carrying over the maximum 4 percent into the 2012-13 budget,” said PUSD Business Manager Kathie Manning about the M &O budget during her presentation on the budget to the board and public on Monday, July 9.

The district’s just-adopted M & O budget for the upcoming year involved lots of guesswork and fiscal crystal ball gazing, since the district will not actually know how the 2012-13 budget all worked out until it gets final figures from the state in the next few months.

Nonetheless, the state not only insists the school board adopt a budget based on inspired guesswork, but will not let the district adjust the budget upward once it is adopted.

Even if a district experiences a catastrophic event not covered by insurance, it cannot go above the total expenditures adopted at the start of the year.

Fortunately, the district can carry over unspent money to pad its wafer-thin contingency fund.

In her PowerPoint presentation, Manning wrote, “the overall budget including ALL funding sources is down over $1 million. This is largely due to the ARRA funds and forest fees ending.”

“I don’t understand,” said board member Barbara Shepherd, “How can we be down by $1 million?”

Manning explained that the district this year will lose a more than $500,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant designed to keep the district from laying off staff plus nearly $400,000 in forest fees, intended to compensate for all the federally owned land not on the property tax rolls.

However, Manning explained the district was able to carry forward monies because of the ARRA stimulus grant it received last year helped to cover salaries.

However, the district will have to use $105,000 of budgeted funds to make a down payment on a settlement PUSD owes the Arizona Department of Education for a disputed study hall class the district offered in past years. That will take the contingency fund total to a little over 2 percent.

Fortunately, Congress did give the district a boost when it passed a transportation bill at the end of June that included the politically charged forest fees paid to rural counties for schools and roads. As a result, Payson schools will get $368,000.

The school gets its money mostly from state aid and local property taxes.

This year, the state has increased the average daily membership (ADM or attendance) payments slightly to provide money for reading programs for kindergarten through third grade. That additional ADM money comes to $85,000, but the state hasn’t yet told the districts how they’re supposed to use that money.

Manning reported that the primary property tax rate will decline slightly and the secondary rate will rise slightly, so homeowners will see little change. In the past two years, the district’s property tax rate has risen sharply. Moreover, average property values dropped by about 14 percent in Gila County this year, which could also trim a little from the property tax bill for many homeowners.

Last year, forest fees paid for some teachers’ salaries. This year, the majority of teachers’ salaries came out of the M & O budget. Grants and classroom site funds also pay for teachers’ salaries.

As the year progresses, PUSD may shift salaries from the M & O budget to the forest fees grant fund.

Generally this year, state support held steady, compared to the sharp decline the district suffered last year.

Part of the decline in the operating budget of nearly $500,000 came from layoffs, which mostly affected teachers. As a result, the budget will spend 2.3 percent less on classroom instruction.

Included in that reduction of benefits, the district has returned to a 50/50 split between the employer and employee contributing to the state retirement system.

The district’s spending on special education will drop by half a percent to $1.9 million. That includes vocational, technical and gifted education programs.

This year, vocational education will lose more than $100,000. The state Legislature has slashed spending on vocational education by removing all funding for freshman vocational and technical classes, which often have the most students since freshmen have more time available on their schedule for electives.

The budget for transportation dropped by 6 percent, despite the rise in fuel costs.

However, spending on school building upkeep will increase by 8.7 percent.

The district Web site lists six schools, 24 school buses, 37 district vehicles, various equipment, school grounds, playing fields, and food service as falling under the budget.

The athletics department will have athletic staff salaries and benefits covered, resulting in a line item of $75,052.

The district spends more than 80 percent of the PUSD budget on salaries and benefits.

This year between certified and classified staff, the district has total of 283 employees.

Often a contentious part of the budget, this year the number of administrators has dropped to five resulting in one administrator per 476 students.

Other managers, supervisors and directors total five as well, with the same student to management level as administration.

Teachers make up 45 percent of the district staff. This year the ratio of teachers to students equals one to 18.8. Special education teachers have a ratio of one teacher per 16.3 students. Teacher aides number one to every 41 students.

Support staff for special education numbers one to five students.

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