State audit numbers on school districts - Tucson News Now

State audit numbers on school districts not as cut and dried as might seem

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Some local school districts say a new report that shows less education money making it to the classroom doesn't tell the whole story.

The Arizona Auditor General says the statewide classroom spending percentage has hit a 12-year low with 54.2 percent of revenues going for teacher pay, books and other instructional costs last school year.

That is 7.1 percent below the national average.

The report also says Arizona continues to fall well below the national average on per pupil spending, putting Arizona behind most states in spending on K-12 education.

The report says Arizona's fiscal year 2010 per-pupil spending was $7,609.

That's $3,043 less per pupil than the 2010 national average.

Locally, the Tanque Verde, Vail, Amphitheater and Marana districts are above or at the state average for percentage of funding that actually makes it to the classroom.

Sahuarita, Flowing Wells, Tucson Unified and Sunnyside all fall below the state average.

Per student spending is also down statewide for the third year.

The auditor general's report says almost all Tucson area school districts spent a lower percentage of revenues in the classroom over the last five years.

However, the numbers are not as clear cut as they might seem.

The report compares classroom spending percentages versus non-classroom spending percentages.

Tucson's largest school district, Tucson Unified, spends a higher percentage of its budget on student support than any other local district, but student support is listed on the non-classroom side of the auditor general's pie chart.

Plus, TUSD says much of that money comes from the federal government with specific mandates on how it will be spent. 

TUSD also argues that student and, even teacher support, do assist in lifting student achievement in the classroom, though the report does not reflect that.

"Focusing on teacher professional development, instructional support, if we're going to build toward stronger, more appropriate achievement, that means we've got to focus on teachers and teacher professional development. Well, that's exactly what we're doing, but the teacher professional development is instructional support outside of the classroom. Every dollar we spend on that works against us in terms of the instructional budget, while it works for us in terms of being able to life achievement," says Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone.

He explains further, "If I were a parent and I had a student that I--in fact, most parents do--that may or may not have some instructional issues, a student might need some support outside of the classroom to do well in the classroom, this is the district I would want my child in because we spend more on instructional and student support than most other districts."

However, in the Auditor General's report, neither teacher professional development nor student instructional support are listed under classroom spending.

Pedicone says TUSD is spending more the classroom this year than last year.

He says it's a .2% increase in the instructional budget while the district deals with severe state budget cuts and continues operating without a budget override.

The Vail School District's Calvin Baker tells KOLD News 13 that as the state cuts funding for education, "districts still have to pay fixed costs, so everything shrinks."

Baker says those places where cuts can be made are cut.

That means the percentage of classroom spending falls while the percentage of spending on things such as fixed costs rises.

Baker says, even so, Vail continues to spend more than most school districts on the classroom.  

He says, with the recently passed budget override, he expects Vail will spend more money in the classroom next year.

To read the Arizona Auditor General's report, click here.

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