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Arizona Auditor Generals report for 2015: Looking beyond the numbers
The Arizona Auditor General released its annual school district spending report on March 1. The report analyzes classroom and non-classroom spending on a state and district level. Statewide, the report found that Arizona's classroom spending percentage is the lowest it has been in 15 years.
At Tucson Unified, classroom spending held steady at 48.7 percent for the first time since 2012 despite another round of state cuts. The District kept classroom spending steady by shifting more than $3.2 million from non-instructional budgets to instructional budgets. While Tucson Unified's classroom spending is lower than the 56.6 percent peer average, many factors that are unique to Tucson Unified come into play.
While capital funding shouldn't impact instructional spending, it's important to note that the District has lost nearly $100 million in capital funding since 2008. This year the District has just $2.5 million in capital funding to repair and maintain 89 schools and other facilities. Tucson Unified's buildings on average are 46 years old, and our square footage per pupil is much higher than the average. Bottom line: It costs money to maintain our 8 million square feet of facilities.
Looking at the spending per pupil versus the percentage, the District is fourth in its area, and it continually works to bring more dollars into the classroom. With newer schools that house more students, other districts need fewer administrators and have greater efficiencies.
Superintendent H.T. Sánchez said student safety and well-being sometimes drive the District to make decisions that impact the state's calculation of per-student spending.
"We have some high schools that do not have enough students to require assistant principals, but we know those campuses need support, and we are committed to providing it to ensure the best environment for our students," he said. "While decisions like these reduce our classroom spending percentages as defined by the state, we put a priority of students rather than numbers."
When instructional support and student support are added to the equation, the District's classroom spending jumps to 64.5 percent.
Students per administrative position
The Auditor General report found that Tucson Unified has 59 students per administrative position, while the state average is 67 students per administrative position. The District has a number of central office positions that are mandated under our desegregation court order. These include Culturally Relevant Curriculum Director, Multi-Cultural Curriculum Director, Magnet School Director, Advanced Learning Experiences Director, Diversity Retention and Recruitment Director, Mexican American Student Services Director, and African American Student Services Director. Each of these positions is cited in District's desegregation court order.
While those are fixed costs, Dr. Sánchez has reduced the cost of the Superintendent's Leadership team by 30 percent since he was hired.
Tucson Unified has higher than average costs for transportation. The District drives 322 buses 4.6 million miles per year. This is due to the size of the District as well as requirements of the desegregation plan, which requires us to transport many students to their schools of choice.
Operating Reserve: 3 percent and increasing
The report shows Tucson Unified's Current Financial and Internal Control Status as compliant. The District's Operating Reserve Percentage is also cited as 3 percent and increasing in the report. The Years of Capital Reserve held is also in its third year. These all indicate that District's financial situation is strong compared to the past.
Tucson Unified is proud of its students and the larger community. The District's graduation rate is higher than the state average despite a higher poverty rate. Tucson Unified had a graduation rate of 81 percent in 2015. The state's average was 76 percent.
Through the Steps to Success program, the District and volunteers from the community have reached out to hundreds of students who had give up on school. More than 380 of those students are still in school, and 40 have graduated.
The annual report also tracks teachers' average years of experience. Tucson Unified's average is 12.4 years, while the state average is 11 years. The District has worked to retain teachers by eliminating an unnecessary layoff practice, offering low-cost child care and providing pay raise