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Tue, July 23

HUSD runs efficiently to save taxpayer dollars
Auditor's report breaks down school districts' operations

Over the past five years, spending per pupil has increased 11 percent in the Humboldt Unified School District, even as the percentage of classroom dollars decreased overall from 59.3 percent to 56.3 percent of operational costs. The state average is 54.7 percent; nationwide, the average is 61 percent.

The Arizona Auditor General's Office report, released Feb. 29, breaks down each school district's operational spending to two categories: classroom dollars and nonclassroom dollars. The first category includes money spent on teacher/staff/substitute salaries, classroom supplies, textbooks and activities such as field trips, athletics, choir and band.

The latter designation, nonclassroom dollars, includes spending on items also relating to students, but not included in the first category, such things as administration, plant operations, food service, transportation, and student and instructional support.

HUSD's decreased percentage of expended classroom dollars corresponds with a decrease in the statewide average, as monitored by the AGO. The state's average classroom dollar percentage of 54.7 in fiscal 2011 hit a record low.

Arizona Auditor General Debbie Davenport stated in the report that some factors that affect districts' efficiency are outside their control. Some less effective practices might include costly benefits packages, operating schools far below designed capacity, and providing generous stipends such as vehicle allowances. Efficient districts may have reduced staffing levels, employed staff that wear "multiple hats," put into place energy conservation measures, and purchased office supplies in bulk.

Some factors beyond districts' control include increased costs for transporting and feeding students, and rising utility costs. Yet state funding for these expenses continues to slide downward.

Some essential support services such as librarians, nurses, counselors, speech pathologists, food service workers, bus drivers, principals, secretaries and attendance clerks are not included in the classroom spending category, but rather listed under nonclassroom dollars, even though some staff work directly with students in the classroom.

HUSD's operational costs for administration, plant operations, food service and transportation all fall in the lowest of five cost categories. Its administration cost per pupil is $591 - a Very Low grade - while similar sized districts spend $745 per student and the state average is $728.

HUSD spends $2.29 per meal equivalent compared to peer average of $2.76 and state average of $2.45, also in the Very Low category. Plant operations and transportation costs placed the district in the Low category.

Other audit topics indicate attendance rate for HUSD students is 94 percent (state average 95 percent), 2010 graduation rate is 82 percent (78 percent state average), 2010 poverty rate is 24 percent (state average is 22 percent), and 18.5 students per teacher (state is 18.1).

The average teacher salary in the district is $40,602 per year as compared to the state average of $45,637. The percent of HUSD teachers in their first three years of teaching is 9 percent, compared to the state average of 16 percent. Average years of experience for HUSD teachers is 11.2 percent; state average is 10.9.

Dollars spent in the classroom is an outmoded way of thinking about supporting student success, Davenport wrote in the report.

"Money is not everything when it comes to student achievement," Davenport stated. Other factors include curriculum, teacher quality, parental involvement, school and class size, student use of technology, and poverty rate.

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