A drop in student enrollment during this school year forced Prescott Unified School District to revise its existing 2018-19 budget by $800,000, relying on district savings to cover the balance.
The revised PUSD school maintenance and operation budget is $25.5 million.
So what’s going to happen for the 2019-2020 year?
District Superintendent Joe Howard admits it is still a bit of a mystery. But he promises that there is no talk about major staff cuts or program losses.
In the last decade, PUSD has become really creative and clever about how to accommodate for declining enrollments without jeopardizing programs for students, Howard said. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
On Jan. 17, the official 100th day of school, PUSD calculated its headcount that was just shy of 4,000 students in the district. The state, though, will only fund for 3,620 of those students based on their enrollment requirements for average daily membership. Education dollars for each student are calculated on attendance through the first 100 days with reduced amounts for those who were there for only a portion, and no money for those who enroll after the 100th day. The per-pupil funding rate is about $5,000 per student.
Chief Financial Officer Brian Moore is now crunching numbers based on those enrollment figures plus projected increases the state will provide related to inflation, as well as other money promised for other targeted areas, such as teacher salaries, to determine how much will, or will not, have to be trimmed from the existing budget. His hope is that a good chunk of the $800,000 that had to be repaid to the current budget will be forthcoming from additional state allocations.
What those exact figures will be, however, have yet to be determined.
A Prescott Unified Governing Board retreat is to be scheduled for early March. At that retreat, board members will be given some budget projections so that they can begin prioritizing what they want to have in that budget.
One such thing that board members prioritized last year was money to cover part of the salary for a full-time school resource officer at the high school. Moore said he expects that remains a priority.
Though Howard does not expect to see any major staffing cuts, he said declining enrollments do require assuring that classes are staffed appropriately. District principals have become experts in figuring out how to manage class sizes so that there are neither too many students nor too few, he said. In a couple elementary districts, Howard said some boundary adjustments will be made for new students to accommodate population shirts.
With the state teaching shortages, Howard said he expects any staff reductions that would be required will be made up through attrition rather than layoffs as were required a few years ago when the district was forced to close school buildings and restructure the district to accommodate years of enrollment decline.
Moore and Howard both say one of the biggest budgeting hassles these days is the state’s shift to a current year funding formula, something that is not done elsewhere. Both said this funding formula forces administration to guess on future enrollment, which could require significant funding adjustments to be made during the fiscal year. Moore has been diligent about assuring the district maintains a solid savings balance – officially called “carry over” funds – but the enrollment shift based on projections for this year led to a large deficit, Howard said. He and Howard’s true hope is the state recognize the flaws in this budget format that moved from experience to educated guess.
Another issue relates to Prescott’s future growth.
Will Prescott continue to be marketed as a retirement community, or will be it also be touted as a thriving, economically viable place for families to reside?
As for the impact of area charter schools, Howard said the pinch was felt a few years ago. In recent years, though, he said the district has as many students return to the district from charter schools as are leave to attend them.
“There are no surprises here for us,” Howard said of preparing the budget for the coming year. Behind-the scenes, administrators in both the central office and at the seven school sites are looking at where there are efficiencies that do impact programs for students, Howard said. At the central office, Howard said a receptionist position opened. But he did not have to fill the job because the rest of the district office staff opted to rotate those duties. He said this is just an example of the creative approaches this district uses to save dollars without impacting students.
“We’ve been very creative to find ways to balance our budget (over the years). There are ways that we can squeeze the dollars,” Howard said. “We’ve talked with our principals, and we have our pro-active budgeting that is a business model of where we’re growing and where we’re not. Then we make adjustments.
“We’ve been very creative to find ways to balance the budget, and Brian (Moore) continues to bring me creative ways that least affect kids and least affect staff. We will keep finding ways to make it (education) happen.”