The Unified Payson School District budget will rise by almost 7 percent to $16 million in fiscal 2019-20, with most of the new money going to pay raises.

The increase comes despite an enrollment decline of about 50, to an estimated 2,238 students.

Teachers will get an average raise of about 3 percent, bringing the districtwide average to $49,757, according to a Monday presentation to the board by Chief Financial Officer Kathie Manning. Teachers received a bigger raise last year, bringing the total to 14 percent over two years.

The average teacher salary has climbed from $43,556 in FY 2018 to $49,757 in the upcoming year. This reporter mistakenly reported in two earlier stories that the average teacher salary was about $67,000. That’s actually at the top of the teacher pay range, not the average salary.

Moreover, the district this year must absorb an estimated 15 percent increase in health care costs for employees.

The district will also have about $1 million stashed in the reserves, roughly 7 percent of the operating budget. If enrollment continues to decline in the fall, the district would lose more money from the state, now that the Legislature has shifted all districts to current year funding.

The biggest unknown hanging over the district remains whether voters in November will once again approve a 10 percent budget override, which generates about $1.3 million annually. The district uses the money to hold down class sizes, recruit new teachers and support the sports and fine arts programs. If voters reject continuing the existing property tax levy to support the budget override, the district will have to phase in $1.3 million in cuts over the next three years.

The district has benefited in the last two years from the first significant increases in state funding for K-12 schools since the deep cuts made during the recession. The Legislature provided money for a teacher pay raise last year and this year, with a final installment promised next year. Even with the 20 percent raise phased in over three years, Arizona teachers will make significantly less than the national average. Moreover, they have a more demanding workload — with among the largest class sizes in the country. Even with the recent increases Arizona schools are among the worst-funded in the country on a per-student basis and haven’t even begun to recover the several billion dollars withheld in the past decade.

The state this year did begin to restore funding for capital needs, including textbooks, buses, buildings, technology, new curriculum and some capital funding. The Legislature stopped putting money in the budget for District Additional Assistance in 2009. This year, the shortfall amounts to $371 million since then. Even with this year’s increases, funding for those capital needs remains $340 per student below 2009 levels.

Payson has a capital spending and maintenance backlog amounting to about $12 million, according to a recent consultant’s report.

Still, the district has at least stopped losing ground in the past two years.

In the operations and maintenance budget, the amount paid in salaries and benefits for instruction will increase about 11 percent, to roughly $4.8 million — not quite a third of the total operations budget.

Spending on administration will increase about 9 percent to $1.4 million. The district this year plans to add a bonus pay system for administrators that could amount to a 5 percent raise, resulting in a potential pay bump of perhaps 8-10 percent. Administrators didn’t share in the teacher raise last year.

Spending on student support services will increase 17 percent to about $700,000, thanks in part to increases in state support for counselors and police officers on campus. Support services for instructional staff will rise 14 percent.

Special education spending will rise 11 percent, driven largely by state formulas that provide extra money for students with disabilities.

The cost of food services will rise about 15 percent to $1 million, with a large share of that funded by the federal government, since half of the district’s students qualify for free and reduced school meals based on family income.

State support for vocational classes like culinary arts, theater arts, marketing, agriculture and business will increase 9 percent to about $309,000. However, the Legislature rejected school district pleas to restore funding for vocational classes for high school freshmen.

Most other categories of spending will remain flat or even decline slightly. The classroom site fund will drop by 14 percent, federal projects by 16 percent and state projects by 18 percent.

The budget will maintain existing teacher-student ratios, with one teacher for every 29 students in special education and one teacher for every 20 students in the regular education program. However, many classes still have more like 35 students, since the ratio averages out small classes and credentialed teachers providing support services without classrooms of their own.

The budget provides for 110 teachers, nine administrators and 21 other certified employees. The district also has 144 other employees.

That works out to one administrator for every 248 students and one non-teaching employee for every 102 students.

The plan calls for eliminating two teaching positions due to the enrollment decline. On the other hand, the budget will add a special education teacher, a speech pathologist and an occupational therapist. The district currently has two open teaching positions, plus several part-time positions, symptoms of a statewide teacher shortage.

Despite an increase in support from the state, the district won’t make much headway on its backlogged capital needs this year. The district has been relying heavily on money left over from the sale of Frontier Elementary School and forest fee money from the federal government, which is intended to make up for all the non-tax-paying federal land in the district boundaries.

Congress generally lags half a year behind the school’s budget cycle in putting money into the forest fees program, so the district never counts on that roughly $300,000 until it’s in the bank.

The district has little money for maintaining buildings, buying new curriculum, adding computers and servers or upgrading buildings.

On the bright side, the district should get $133,000 from the federally funded E-rate program, intended to help schools and libraries connect to reliable, high-speed internet.

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

Unfortunately, the facts are that this is a long term trend by the PUSD. Student population has DECREASED by more than 10% this decade while the local revenues have INCREASED by 26.75% over the same time period. In addition, while there has been a 10% reduction in student population, the classified employees (non-teacher) have INCREASED by over 9%. With these facts - from official reports prepared by the PUSD Finance Office - residents should question the action of the PUSD Board - at the urging of the Superintendent - to seek another Override Election that will place an additional lien on every residential and business property in the district! When is too much not enough.

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