The Payson Unified School District gets good results at a low cost, according to an Arizona Auditor General’s Report that compares the 2,400-student district to similar districts statewide.
The report found the district had higher test scores, lower costs and fewer administrators than a comparison group of 20 other rural districts.
The district’s costs and scores came close to the statewide average, but that included comparisons with lots of high-wealth urban districts.
Even though the district received a “C” on the state’s rating system overall, it has 5 to 10 percent higher AIMS scores than comparable, small rural districts in math, reading, writing and science.
The district also had teacher salaries just barely below the state average, but about 10 percent higher than comparable rural schools. The comparison group included Blue Ridge, Kingman, Lake Havasu, Nogales, Page, Safford, Show Low, Winslow, Snowflake, Sierra Vista, Douglas, Chino Valley and others.
The district’s average teacher salary in 2012 was about $44,492, compared to $40,242 among comparable districts and a statewide average of $45,193. Teachers in the district have an average of 12.5 years of experience, compared to 11 years for teachers statewide. Only 6 percent of the district’s teachers have less than three years experience, compared to 16 percent statewide The district had 17.5 students per teacher, compared to 15 students in comparable districts and 18 students per teacher statewide.
The district spent an average of $729 per student on administration, slightly below both the state average and the comparison group. The district had 53 students per administrator compared to a state and peer average of 66 students per administrator.
Overall, the district spent $7,886 per student in 2012, down from $8,044 in 2011. That’s actually about $800 per student more than the comparable districts and about $410 more than the state average.
Of that total spending, the auditor general classified 55 percent as “instruction,” 9.3 percent as administration, 13 percent as plant operations, 5 percent as food service, 5 percent as transportation, 4 percent as “instruction support,” and 9 percent as “student support.”
Over the past five years, per-student spending has increased by 4 percent. However, the percentage of the district’s budget spent in the classroom has drifted downward — from 57 percent to 55 percent.
The district’s costs were “very high” when it came to food service and transportation, reflecting a sprawling attendance area and a community where 71 percent of students qualify for free and reduced federal lunches based on family income.
The $7,886 spent per student from all sources remained far below the national average of $10,652, according to the auditor general. That’s just 74 percent of the national average. If the district spent that national average total on each student, it would mean a $6.6 million increase in the $13 million operations and maintenance budget.
Still, the district’s finances remained in excellent shape on a measure of “financial stress” that included things like reserves, internal controls, enrollment trends, voter-approved bond issues and overrides and other measures.