Chandler Unified tops in classroom spending - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Unified tops in classroom spending

March 12th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Chandler Unified tops in classroom spending

Executive Editor
And Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Chandler Unified School District spent more money on classroom instruction in 2019-20 than other districts its size and the statewide average, according to the state Auditor General’s annual report on school spending.
Chandler Unified also registered administrative costs well below comparably sized districts and the average for all district in that same year.
The audit red-flagged Chandler Unified’s spending for plant operations on a cost-per-foot basis, saying its $7.52 was higher than the $6.40 spent by similarly sized districts and the statewide average.
But overall, its operations both in terms of cost and number of students were considered equal to or below that of other districts.
In terms of administration, Chandler Unified had 99 students per administrative position while the ratio for districts its size and the statewide average showed there were fewer students per administrator.
That showed in the money CUSD taxpayers spend on administrators rather than on students: Administrative spending per student was $985, compared with $773 for districts its size and a whopping $936 statewide.
Overall, Arizona schools continue to increase the amount of each dollars spent on instruction. But it’s still less than in 2001 when the state began to monitor this metric.
The average school system spent 54.9 percent of its cash on instruction last academic year. That includes teachers, aides, substitutes, general instructional supplies, field trips and athletics.
Chandler Unified was far above that, with 61.4 percent of its 2019-20 budget spent in the classroom.
Statewide, student support, consisting of counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists, nurses, social workers and attendance services took another 8.7 percent. And another 5.7 percent went for instructional support, defined as librarians, teacher training, curriculum development and instruction-related technology services.
In Chandler, student support took 7.7 percent of the budget and instructional support another 4.7 percent.
All totaled, according to the report from Auditor General Lindsey Perry, total classroom spending among Arizona school districts consumed 69.3 percent of every dollar received. In Chandler, that figure was 73.8 percent.
Among the state’s 10 largest districts, CUSD’s percentage of classroom spending of 61.4 percent was edged out by Gilbert Public Schools with 61.6 percent for a near tie at the top. The state’s largest district, Mesa Public Schools, placed eighth in that group with 55.8 percent devoted to classroom spending.
Translated into dollars, Chandler’s $5,097 per-pupil instructional spending topped the $5,072 peer average as well as the $5,016 state average.
But CUSD per-pupil spending for student and instructional support was considerably less.
It spent $642 per pupil on student support compared to the average $831 spent by districts its size and the statewide average of $796. Likewise, Chandler’s $387 per pupil instructional support spending was below the $497 average for districts its size and the $513 state average.
Perry noted that the percentage of spending on instruction and students support, on average, has increased in the past five years. At the same time, schools are spending less of each dollar on food services, plant operations and transportation.
Administrative costs, however, as a percentage of total dollars, has remained the same over the past few years.
The state average percentage of schools’ 2019-2020 budgets for administration costs was 10.2 percent, according to the audit.
Besides the 8.3 percent of its budget devoted to administration costs, major spending included 10.3 percent for plant operations, 3.7 percent for food service and 3.9 percent for transportation costs.
That compared with the statewide averages of 10.2 percent administrative, 11.5 percent plant operations, 4.7 percent for food service and 4.3 percent transportation.
Perry said that overall, Arizona schools spend a lot less than the national average, at $9,136 per student this past school year compared with $12,652. And that national figure actually is two years older but is what was available to state auditors.
That reflects in the individual categories.
Arizona spends an average of $5,016 per student in instruction versus $7,676 nationally. And districts spend an average of $936 per student in administrative costs; the national figure is $1,423.
Total per-pupil spending statewide for everything from instruction to buses amounted to $14,530 while Chandler’s spending amounted to $11,170.
In looking at the change in instructional spending over the last 20 years, the report shows that the percentage of the budget devoted to classroom learning in Chandler has never been below 60.6 percent.
That low was recorded in the 2016-17 school year. Its highest percentage of classroom spending in the last two decades was 63.7 percent in the 2005-06 school year – well before the State Legislature began making a series of annual cuts to financial support for public education.
Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the percentage of its budget that Chandler Unified devoted to the classroom went from 60.9 percent to 61.4 percent. Statewide over the last 20 years, the average percentage of the budget devoted to the classroom has never been higher than 58.6 percent in 2003-04.
And the statewide average has barely exceeded the low of 53.5 percent record in 2015-16. The 2019-20 percentage of 54.9 percent was barely above the 54.7 percent spent the previous school year.
Perry also found that the average classroom size – the number of students per teacher – remains at 18 for the second year in a row across Arizona. But it still is less than the 18.5 figure from the 2016-2017 school year. Chandler Unified’s ratio last school year was 18.8 students per teacher.
Chandler Unified teachers’ average years of experience is higher than that of districts statewide. While the state average is 11.7 years of experience, Chandler Unified teachers have an average 12.1 years.
And only 12 percent of CUSD teachers have three years or less of experience as opposed to the state average of 18 percent.
The report also showed that between 2013-14 and 2019-20, enrollment in CUSD increased 10 percent to a total 44,939 students.
Of that number, 11 percent were in special education, 2 percent were English learners and 24 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunches because their household income was low.