Percentage of funds used for classrooms is down, report says
Capitol Media Services
Feb. 28, 2009


By Howard Fischer
Tucson, Arizona | Published:


PHOENIX The percentage of tax dollars that wound up in the classroom was lower in the last school year than at any time since the state started tracking spending rates seven years ago.
A new report Friday by the state auditor general shows 57.3 cents of every dollar went to classroom instruction down six-tenths of a point from last year and 1.3 points from the high in the 2003 and 2004.
Auditor General Debra Davenport said the number should be higher, if for no other reason than schools began receiving more cash from the state in the 2001-02 school year after voters approved a hike in state sales taxes. Virtually all those dollars were used for classroom spending, she said.
But Davenport reported it appears some school districts used those new state funds to replace other dollars they had been spending on instruction, a move she said violates state law.
Proper use of those dollars would have resulted in teacher salaries, on average, being $7,500 higher, Davenport said.
The report, however, does not identify which school districts may be breaking the law.
Not all of the decline can be linked to shifting funds.
Davenport said schools are now spending more on support services ranging from teacher training to physical and speech therapy for students. And she said many districts are contracting out for those services, a move that increases costs.
She also reported larger school districts typically put a higher percentage of their dollars into the classroom because they can spread fixed administrative costs over a larger number of students.
But Davenport added that some small districts beat the statewide average.
Among the largest districts those with more than 20,000 students Tucson Unified spent the least at 53.4 percent. Gilbert Unified topped the list with 63.2 percent
State School Superintendent Tom Horne said the report buttresses his argument that the state's more than 200 school districts should be consolidated. He acknowledged that will bring complaints from residents of some districts fearing consolidation would result in the loss of local control. Residents would no longer elect school board members from their local community but instead would be part of a larger district.
"But you have to measure that against the academic benefit of spending more money on teacher salaries and less money on administration," Horne said.
Horne disputed some items the report did not consider to be classroom spending, like librarians, nurses, air conditioning so kids can learn and transportation to get them to school, which are listed as administrative costs,
He said what he considers pure administrative costs superintendents, principals, business managers, clerical staff, human resources and information technology specialists on average amount to only 9.2 percent of all money spent by schools.
How districts spent their money:
Area 2008 2007
Classroom instruction 57.3% 57.9%
Plant operation and maintenance 11.3% 11.3%
Administration 9.2% 9.5%
Student support 7.4% 7.3%
Instruction support 5.4% 4.8%
Food service 4.8% 4.7%
Transportation 4.4% 4.3%
Other 0.2% 0.2%
Source: Auditor General's Office
School district % '08 money in instruction '07
Amphitheater 57.5% 56.8%
Catalina Foothills 55.0% 57.9%
Flowing Wells 57.7% 59.0%
Marana 57.3% 59.1%
Sahaurita 54.7% 54.9%
Sunnyside 55.2% 57.0%
Tanque Verde 59.3% 56.7%
TUSD 53.4% 54.3%
Vail 59.9% 59.3%
Source: Auditor General's Office