Two years of resignations and layoffs have cut deeply into the ranks of Payson teachers and classified staff, but left the ranks of administration almost untouched.
Even before absorbing two years of lopsided layoffs, Payson’s administrative costs were about 10 percent above average.
Since last June, Payson has lost 13 teachers to layoffs and resignations and hired six.
The district now has 142 certificated employees, down from 156 in 2010-11.
The ranks of non-credentialed staff actually rose in 2011-12 by four. Overall, the classified staff has dropped from 167 in 2010-11 to roughly 154 this year, according to a compilation based on a year’s worth of board agendas.
Many of those classified staff do work in the classroom as aides and tutors.
District administrators say that they cut all the administrators the district could afford three years ago and cannot meet state-mandated reporting requirements if they reduced their ranks any further.
The state keeps statistics comparing classroom and administrative costs for each district in the state. However, the numbers lag about two years behind, which means they don’t reflect recent cuts.
Arizona remains almost dead last when it comes to per-student spending nationwide. A 2011 survey by the National Education Association concluded Arizona spends about 58 percent of the national average per student.
A report issued by the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and based on the 2010-11 budget shows that Payson spends about 10 percent more than the state average.
Payson’s administrative costs totaled $767 per student, compared to a state average of $697.
Payson’s classroom costs averaged $4,260 per student, compared to a statewide average of $3,634.
Several factors can account for Payson’s above average costs, including an unusually high percentage of special education students, who bring in far more money per student according to state formulas.
In addition, smaller, rural school districts usually have higher administrative costs due to the lack of economies of scale.
The past two years have seen a roughly 7 percent decline in the district’s enrollment and a 10 percent decline in the ranks of its teachers. Adding teacher’s aides will offset the effect of the teacher reductions, which have also boosted average elementary class sizes from about 23 to 29, depending on the grade.
The most recent layoffs focused entirely on the ranks of the teachers, with all the reductions in classified staff coming in the form of retirement and resignations.
Last year, for school year 2010-11 the district reported:
• 167 classified positions. These include secretaries, maintenance, counselors and teacher aides.
• 156 certified staff. Teachers fall under this category.
• 11 administration positions. This includes the superintendent, six principals, director of special services, athletic and business managers.
For the current 2011-12 school year the district reported:
• 154 classified staff. This represents a 7 percent drop.
• 149 certified staff. This is a 4 percent drop.
• 11 administration positions. No change.
In the upcoming year, reductions include six teachers, although the district may still hire to fill those lost positions.
Three years ago, layoffs did touch the ranks of the administrators. That included high school principal Roy Sandoval and assistant principal Tim Fruth, along with the athletic director riffed at the end of the year.
The district promoted the principal of the alternative school to the high school principal slot and promoted a teacher into the open vice principal slot.
It ultimately combined the alternative principal and athletic director slots.
The district also three years ago for one year asked a single principal to handle two elementary schools, but then closed Frontier Elementary School.
Payson administrators say that they’re running a bare-bones operation when it comes to administrative staff.
Director of Special Services Barbara Fitzgerald noted that most school districts have a curriculum director, but Payson does not. The only administrators besides the superintendent and principals, includes the director of special services, business, maintenance and athletic directors.
In the second year of layoffs, secretaries, teachers and support staff from the closing of Frontier Elementary School accounted for most of the staff loss.
This year, the district laid off six teachers and no classified staff.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said that because of state and federal reporting requirements, the district cannot afford to lay off more support staff, or the schools will lose money from a lack of reporting.
Business manager Kathy Manning says she has never worked in a district with so few administrators getting paid so little.
So, how does PUSD compare to the rest of the unified districts in the state?
According to the annual report of the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, last year Payson spent 10 percent more on administration than other unified districts.
At the same time, PUSD spent 10 percent more in its classrooms than statewide counterparts.
In comparison, the Snowflake district, which has similar enrollment numbers, spent 13 percent less on administration and 2 percent less in the classroom than the average district.
With Payson’s enrollment declining by 80 students so far this year and more families planning on moving away from Payson before the start of the next school year, administrators predict more staffing cuts in the future.