PUSD leaders talk budget, security at retreat

PUSD board retreat, from left to right, Abia Judd Elementary Principal Clark Tenney, board member Maureen Erickson and Superintendent Joe Howard.

Photo by Nanci Hutson.

PUSD board retreat, from left to right, Abia Judd Elementary Principal Clark Tenney, board member Maureen Erickson and Superintendent Joe Howard.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of PUSD retreat topics in coming editions of The Daily Courier.

For some six hours, the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board on Friday met with school administrators for a retreat about issues that will impact teachers and students in the coming year.

The open dialogue, no-vote session was held in the new conference room of the soon-to-be relocated district offices at the historic Washington School on Gurley Street. Board members were able to talk with its top leaders about everything from teacher raises and future teaching housing to the recent accreditation team visit and funding of a full-time school resource officer for enhanced security at the high school next year. The conversations will lead to action on future agendas, including budget deliberations scheduled for April 3.

The retreat opened with talk of the positive vibes school administrators got from the seven-member visiting AdvancEd accreditation team that spent three days visiting all six district schools and interviewing 175 people about their views on the kind of education children receive in this district.

The team is expected to rate the district on its strengths, as well as highlight areas of improvement. The final report is not expected to be finished until next month.

Superintendent Joe Howard and his central office leaders and school principals said they expect the district will not only earn accreditation but many accolades for the work they do to live up to their district motto: “Every Child, Every Day.”

After that overview, the district’s Chief Financial Officer Brian Moore presented to the board a proposed budget based on expected funding levels and administrative priorities. The current school budget is $23.3 million.

The detailed discussions incorporated the good news that for the first time in a decade school enrollment increased by about 50 students — based on the 100th day of the 2017-18 school year PUSD counted 3,819 students — and no staffing cuts will be required.

The proposed administration budget as it stands now — it does not take into account any additional state legislative funds — calls for some $681,000 in increased costs, including a three percent raise for teachers, administrators and other staff.

Those would be offset by $381,087 in increased revenues and some $274,237 in district savings carried over into the new budget year.

That would then require the district to find an additional $25,776, not including money to pay for a full-time school resource officer. Howard stated he is meeting with the city to determine a funding formula for that position, with an expectation the district would be able to find at least $40,000 of one-time dollars to cover the cost. But board members said that is such a priority that the amount might need to be higher if the city is unable to split the cost in half.

Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli, who is also a board member, said the SRO position is clearly a priority and the city will work with the district on how best to fund that position. He noted the city is also looking at other options to increase police presence in all area schools.

Gov. Doug Ducey is proposing two-percent, across-the-board salary increases for all public school employees. If that was added to the budget mix, Prescott faculty and staff would be eligible for a 5 percent salary increase.

Though board members favor making salaries competitive, the issue they will likely debate during budget deliberations will be whether or not salaries should trump the hiring of additional mental health and clinical counseling staff.

Principals admitted more therapeutic staff is much needed, particularly at the middle school and high school levels.

Yet they don’t want to lose high-caliber, seasoned teaching professionals because salaries are not competitive with other districts across the state, or in neighboring states.

Howard said he hopes district savings, and other one-time funds, including grants, may help finance some additional mental and emotional support staff. He, though, was clear he believes investment in classroom teachers is the key to identifying and helping children who need additional resources.

The district now has one full-time social worker, one full-time clinical counselor, five academic advisors and five school psychologists who are dedicated to services for special education students.

The retreat agenda also included a discussion of school security and safety, a new initiative related to affordable housing for teachers, and the hosting of a public forum to better inform community leaders about what is happening within the district. The board also quickly talked about a four-day school week, but no one seemed inclined to bring that issue forward at this time.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.