New report shows CUSD spent more per pupil in the classroom - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

New report shows CUSD spent more per pupil in the classroom

March 17th, 2023 SanTan Sun News
New report shows CUSD spent more per pupil in the classroom

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

The Chandler Unified School District continues to be a state leader in the latest report from the Arizona Auditor General, which found that it put 72.1% of all spending last school year in the classroom.

CUSD exceeds both its peer group and state averages in measures such as standardized test scores and teacher salaries.

And while its per-pupil spending in the three categories the Auditor General uses to define classroom spending, there was a drop of nearly $400 in how much the district spends per student and a decline in the percentage that goes to instruction. The report

said 58.2% of the district’s 2021-22 spending went to instruction as opposed to 61.7% of the previous year.

The 58.2% on instruction is the lowest percentage reported since the Auditor General began releasing these reports in 2001.

The cause for the decrease appears to be the free lunch program, according to Kyrene School District Chief Financial Officer Chris Hermmann, who explained how his district and CUSD are similar during an event sponsored by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce March 3.

“Last year, the federal government had a program where they offered free meals for all students, breakfast and lunch in the classroom,” said Hermann. “And so for us, we typically don’t have a lot of participation in the federal programs because we have very few students in poverty that qualify for free or reduced priced lunches. But when all the meals are free, we saw a huge increase in the number of students that were taking advantage of that for the year.”

He said a similar dynamic was likely happening in the Chandler Unified district, something that CUSD Chief Financial Officer Lana Berry nodded in agreement with during the Chamber event.

“Our spending in food service areas went up by 106%,” Hermann said. “Year over year, that was almost a $4 million increase in spending. If you took that change and had it be the similar amount as a previous year, we would be right there (as far as education spending).”

The Kyrene Elementary School District dropped in instructional spending last year to 58.8% from 61.9% the previous year.

CUSD’s total spending per student was $12,041 last school year – down $396 from the $12,437 it spent in 2020-21.

However, most of the numbers in the Auditor General’s report were favorable.

And in each of the three classroom categories, per-pupil spending actually was greater last school year than the previous year, the report shows.

“In-classroom spending in Chandler and Kyrene are really, at the top of the state, as far as how much money goes into the classroom,” Hermann said. “That’s a point of pride for both of our districts.”

The largest category for classroom spending involves instruction, which the report defines as the cost of “teachers, teachers’ aides, substitute teachers, graders, guest lecturers, instructional supplies and aids, field trips, athletics, co-curricular activities, and tuition.”

In that category, CUSD spent a total $5,786 per student – up $294 over the previous year.

The district also spent $574 per student on instruction support, which the Auditor General defines as the cost of “librarians, teacher training, curriculum development, special education directors, media specialists, and instruction-related technology services.” Chandler Unified’s expenditure here was $139 per student higher than 2020-21.

The third category included in classroom spending involves money spent for student support – defined as covering “counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists, nurses, social workers, and attendance services.” CUSD spent $803 per pupil in this category – up $110 from the previous year.

The district is beating both the state average and its peer group in the number of students who passed state assessments.

CUSD’s passing rates last school year were 52% in math, 57% in English Language Arts and 35% in science. The state averages for last school year were 33% in math, 40% in English Language Arts and 24% in science.

Chandler Unified is the second-largest district in the state. So its peer group includes the 11 largest districts in the state, each with enrollments of 15,000 or more students. The average passing percentages for its peer group were 47 in math, 53 in English Language Arts and 33 in science.

CUSD also spent only $801 per student for its administration. The peer group spent $921 and the state average was $1,088. And Chandler’s ratio of students to administrator was a cost-saving 95 students to one administrator as opposed to 71 students for peer districts and the state average of 63.

There were some areas where CUSD spent more than its peers and the state average. They were in plant operations, and transportation per mile. They also spent more than their peers on transportation per rider.

The average teachers’ salary was $63,584. The state average is $58,366. The average number of students in a CUSD classroom remained low at 17.4, which matches the previous year. There’s been a steady decline since that number was 19.3 in 2017.

While per-pupil food service spending rose last year by $168 to $530, the district’s cost of a meal was lower than similarly sized districts and the state average. The report said per-meal spending for the district was $2.96 as opposed to the state average of $3.25.

However, the report labeled Chandler Unified’s transportation costs “high” in comparison to peer districts. It said per-mile spending of $5.36 was higher than the peer district cost of $5.60 and the state average of $5.35.

Likewise, per-rider spending of $1,851 far exceeded the peer district cost of $1,678 while it was lower than the state average of $1,945.

The district’s graduation rate in June 2021 was 91%. The Auditor General’s annual report typically looks at the graduation rate of the senior class that got diplomas prior to the year under study.

In 2021-22, the Auditor General said, the district’s enrollment declined by only 2% from its 2018 student population and 11% of that group was enrolled in special education programs.