The state Auditor General shows Mesa Public Schools increased per-pupil spending in 2018 while serving fewer students and Chandler Unified did the same despite a student population increase.
Both districts spent more per student on instruction last school year than districts of comparable size and the state average overall, according to the Auditor General’s annual report on school spending.
According to the report, Mesa spent 55.4 cents per dollar on instruction in 2018, which totaled $4,599 per student and was a slight increase from the 55.2 cents spent the previous school year.
Chandler Unified spent $4,606 per student on instruction – an increase of $204 per student from the previous year. For every dollar, Chandler put 61.6 cents in the classroom, the report said.
Both Chandler’s and Mesa’s per-pupil spending on instruction exceeded the average $4,531 spent by districts their size and the $4,408 state average.
On the other hand, Mesa’s per-pupil spending on administration of $697 was significantly less than the state average of $860 and the $712 spent by districts the same size. Chandler Unified’s administration per pupil cost was $613.
For per-pupil spending on support – which includes everything from attendance clerks and social workers to counselors, nurses, audiologists and speech pathologists – Chandler spent $516 and Mesa $733. Districts the same size spent $704 per pupil on support services and the state average was $693.
Auditor General Lindsey Perry said classroom spending in Arizona is on the rise for the second year in a row.
According to the report, 54 cents of every education dollar spent during the last academic year went toward instruction. That largely includes salaries and benefits for teachers and aides, as well as school supplies, instructional software, athletics, band and choir.
While higher than in previous years, Perry said the instructional share is still 4.6 percentage points below the high point in 2004. And even after adjusting for inflation, total per pupil spending is $177 less now than it was in 2004 and $861 below the high point in 2008 before the Great Recession.
Perry said the additional dollars did boost the average teacher pay in Arizona from $48,372 to $48,951. And she said overall school districts employed 101 additional teachers, which resulted in a slight reduction in the state’s students-per-teacher ratio.
Still, she said, a gap remains between Arizona and the rest of the country.
Even with the boost in teacher pay, salaries here remain close to $11,300 below the national average.
“Part of the reason for Arizona’s lower average teacher salary may be due to Arizona’s teachers having fewer years of experience, on average, when compared to the national average,” she reported. Perry said Arizona teachers average 11 years of experience compared with the national figure of 13.7 years.
The bottom line, she said, is that Arizona spends less than $8,300 per student, compared with the national average of more than $11,800, with 54 percent of those Arizona dollars winding up in the classroom in Arizona compared with the national average of 60.9 percent of the higher national education spending figure.
Perry said some districts have worked to identify the potential for improved efficiency and cost savings. But, overall, Arizona schools spend 11.9 percent of their budgets on plant operations versus 9.2 percent in the rest of the country.