State report details CUSD 2020-21 spending - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

State report details CUSD 2020-21 spending

March 13th, 2022 development
State report details CUSD 2020-21 spending
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By PAUL MARYNIAK and KEN SAIN
Santan Sun News Staff

Amid COVID-19’s disruptive influence throughout last school year, Chandler Unified School District’s spent just under three-quarters of its operating budget on students, though actual dollars spent per pupil in three key categories were below state averages, according to a report by the Arizona Auditor General released earlier this month.

That report shows Chandler Unified spent 74.3% of its operational budget on instruction – including 61.7% in the classroom; 7.8% of its total budget on student support – such as counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists, nurses, social workers and attendance services – and 4.8% on instructional support, such as librarians and technology.

In total dollars spent per student in 2020-21, Chandler Unified spent $5,492 for instruction, $693 for student support and $435 for instructional support. The district’s total instructional spending last year was 2.3% higher than 2019-20.

The statewide average per-pupil expenditures were $5,521 spent for instruction, $905 for student support and $576 for instructional support.

Chandler Unified total per-pupil cost also includes $2,282 for administration, plant operations, food service and transportation – lower than the $2,974 statewide average – and another $3,535 for nonoperation expenditures for land and buildings, equipment, interest and miscellaneous expenses – higher than the $2,355 statewide average.

In terms of both operational and nonoperational spending, the total per-pupil cost of education in Chandler Unified was $12,437 – higher than the similar average expenditure for districts of comparable size and the statewide average.

On a percentage basis, CUSD spent 8.3% of its budget on administration in 2020-21 – lower than the statewide average of 10.4%.

The report says the district kept class sizes the same at an average 17.4 students per teacher in 2020-21.

The statewide average was 17 students per teacher, though it is unclear how the 50,000 decline in total student enrollment affected that ratio.

The average experience level of Chandler Unified teachers last school year was 12.3 years and teachers with three or fewer years comprised only 12% of all teachers.

On the other hand, 17% of all teachers statewide had three or fewer years of experience and the average years of experience for an Arizona teacher was 11.9 years.

The Auditor General’s report was a year behind in graduation rates. It showed that in May 2020, 91% of all Chandler Unified seniors graduated. That rate was far higher than the state average of 78% and roughly in the same range of most other East Valley districts, though Mesa Public Schools was an outlier with only a 79% graduation rate.

Chandler also spent $1,444 per rider on school buses, compared to a state average twice that figure.

CUSD had about 45,000 students last school year, which was 10% increase higher over where it was five years before. About 11% of those students were in special education and 8% live in poverty. Nearly a quarter of all students are eligible for free or reduced meals because of their household income.

The district received about $7.8 million from the federal government in 2020 in pandemic-relief grants while other districts its size averaged about $5.5 million.

The Auditor General found that Chandler Unified was among only 87 of the state’s 205 schools districts kept their promise to raise teacher salaries 20% from what they were in 2016-17.

Instead, it found that statewide average salaries are up just 16.5%, or $7,977 a year. And just 87 of the 205 school districts actually hit or exceeded that 20% figure.

Chandler’s average teacher salary was $62,866.

CUSD ranked low for spending on administration and employed fewer administrators than districts its size of the average for all districts in the state.

In a spending area where the more students per administrator, the more efficient a district is, the state average was 63 students per administrator while CUSD has 95 students per administrator.

Administration spending also was low. While the average per-pupil cost of administration statewide was $1,041, CUSD spent $719.

Auditor General Lindsey Perry said there are various possibilities about why the actual spending on teacher salaries fell short of the 20% goal set by Gov. Doug Ducey.

One, she said, is that the funds were distributed to districts based on the number of students and not how much each district would need to increase its average pay by 20%. So, a district where salaries were lower than average got proportionately more cash for each teacher.

In GPS the average teacher pay was already higher than the state average and so teachers saw a lower pay hike.

Closely related is what Perry called “changes in teacher population.’’

“For example, most districts that had a decrease in average teacher salary also had a decrease in average years of teacher experience,’’ she explained. That’s because less experienced teachers are often paid less than those with more experience.

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