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Mon, Oct. 21

Donations fill school district gaps
PUSD leaders grateful for donations as lean budgets continue to be Arizona’s educational legacy

Gifts and Donations for 16/17 SY:

Lincoln $16,888

Taylor Hicks $15,476

Abia Judd $10,193

Granite $5,737

Mile High $32,889

Prescott High $113,288

The only way Prescott High School will have a full-time school resource officer on its campus next year is if a community benefactor opts to cover the cost of the contract that is about $83,000 for the year.

Prescott Unified Schools Superintendent Joe Howard would love to have someone save that position because he knows it is needed. He commends the city of Prescott for picking up the expense for more than a dozen years.

The sad truth is that the district has little leeway in its $23.42 million budget for the 2017-18 school year — it’s 2.2 percent higher than last year — to do anything more than cover the administration and Governing Board’s top three priorities: maintain reasonable class sizes; offer a variety of academic programs so students are able to compete with peers in Arizona and across the nation for colleges and jobs; and retain and recruit the highest caliber professionals as classroom teachers, administrators and support staff, Howard explained.

“There is a large list of things that should be done, and that are done in most states, but if you mess with that balance — class size, programs and salaries — it will cause us to lose enrollment,” Howard said. “If class sizes get big, we lose kids. If I don’t have programs, I lose kids. And If I don’t pay, I lose teachers and then I lose kids … The most important thing we can do is put a great teacher in the classroom, and to do that we have to be competitive with pay to recruit and retain the best … That’s the lens we have to look through on these things.”

Arizona’s educational funding formula for all schools is tied to student enrollment. Prescott Unified expects to have just over 3,850 students in the coming year.

“In all areas, we have much less than other states,” Howard said, noting the district has relied on grants for certain positions, such as the school resource officer, but those are guaranteed only as long as the granting agency can provide the dollars. “We’re making a lot with a little.”

Part of PUSD’s success is directly attributed to the fact that Prescott is a pro-public education community, Howard and other district leaders said.

Prescott voters approved a $15 million bond and $6 million override in November 2015. Those dollars enabled the district to offer 5 percent across-the-board raises and invest in capital items such as new buses, facility repairs and upgrades, computers and interactive classroom technology.

Every year, PUSD is also the recipient of additional community generosity: this year, gifts and donations combined with tax credit contributions totaled $638,907. Those dollars bought such things as a Braille computer, library books, robotics equipment, a piano, online math curriculum, preschool Star Wars toys, summer baseball coaches and much more.

Such gifts and donations can be dedicated to a particular school, program or service, and the district must allocate the gift as the donor intended, explained district Finance Officer Brian Moore. The district, too, receives cash donations that are not specific to any one program, and those dollars can then be tapped to supplement whatever the administration and board deem to be the best use of such money, he said. The state Department of Education audits those accounts as it does all other district accounts, he said.

“In lean times, we are forced to think creatively, and it’s good to think creatively,” Howard said. “But not because you’re (financially) starving.”

As for the school resource officer, Howard reaffirmed no one questions the value. It’s just a matter of dollars, both for the district and the Police Department.

“Is this ideal for kids? No,” Howard admitted.

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