By Dana Trumbull
One of the problems faced by finance managers in school districts is the requirement that they must formulate and submit their budget to the county for the coming fiscal year by a specific date. The state legislature; however, is not required to abide by the same deadlines and often does not inform school districts of the amounts that will be allocated to the schools for the coming year until very near or even after the school district budgets are due. As a result, finance managers like Cindy Reichert at the Apache Junction Unified School District, must develop a budget for the coming fiscal year based on an educated guess as to what monies will be available.
At the April 23 AJUSD Governing Board work session, Reichert presented the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20, based on what she referred to as “solid assumptions.”
According to Reichert, total new costs anticipated by the district come to a total of $1,695,000. This includes a budget reduction estimated to be $750,000 due to an assumed 4% decline in student enrollment; increased retirement fund (ASRS) costs of $6,000; salary increases recently approved by the AJUSD Board totaling $900,000 (total includes the increase in minimum wage slated to take effect January 2020) and increases in SmartSchools costs totaling $39,000.
Reichert estimates that these increased costs will be balanced by a legislative increase in “inflationary funding” ($356,000), additional base level funding of approximately 5% ($467,000), a reduction in payroll costs due to staff attrition ($200,000), decreases to school and department budgets ($15,000), Prop 301 funds ($280,000), a district reduction in regular payroll and benefits realized by employees transitioning to SmartSchools ($10,000), Prop 123 additional funding ($152,000) and a draw on prepaid insurance funds ($214,000).
“The legislature hasn’t told us what the budget is yet, so we are moving ahead with what I think are some pretty solid numbers, but they could be subject to change… This is not set in stone, but it is the best projection we have at this point.”
Contract Renewal: Copiers
Reichert also requested a 5-year renewal of the district’s contract with Ricoh for copy machines. The current agreement will expire June 30. “The Ricoh copiers have served us well and have been a cost saver for the district. With this new agreement, the copiers will be four generations newer, with enhanced features.” Over the 5 year period, there will be a savings to the district of about $28,000.
Director of Educational Services Heather Wallace reported that she has been working with AJHS administrators and Booster Club leaders to understand how the Booster Club, the 501(c)3 that channels parent and community support to athletics, works. “We have come to figure out that there needs to be some collaboration and more work done in the coming years.” Wallace plans to study alternative structures used in other school districts and potentially reorganize the boosters to streamline collaboration. Specifically, Wallace mentioned implementing an “overarching booster-board with representatives from each sport.”
“One thing I have realized, working on athletics, is there are a lot of hard working people doing a lot of great things for kids, but the money just isn’t there supporting what’s happening in the sports program.”
Athletic Budget and Extra-curricular Stipends
Wallace also stated that there has not been a change to the amount of the stipends paid to athletic coaches for 8-10 years. Furthermore, “There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how a coach can move from the minimum to the maximum amount of the stipend; most of the coaches are making the minimum,” she said.
Currently, a committee of both high school and junior high coaches and parents are working to create a list of needs and wants for the athletic program. Wallace hopes to develop a rotating schedule for replacement of uniforms and equipment. Larger needs include such things as repairs to the AJHS track. Currently, the district is unable to host track events due to the poor condition of the track.
Volunteers: Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson informed the Board that the district now has 106 volunteers assisting in the schools, up from 47 in the 2017-18 school year. Peralta Trail has the most volunteers. “Ms. Clement has fully embraced volunteers on her campus, and I think the school has yielded a lot of positive results academically as volunteers work with kids in the classroom; but also, these are individuals who are connecting with the school, so tax credits have increased on her campus, as well.”
Professional development: In a move to improve academic achievement, the district has increased the required professional development for teachers. Most of that work is completed on the early release days, resulting in a minimum of 27 hours of professional development supporting classroom improvement.
“Our K-3 teachers were able to come in and get an additional 24 hours focused on our K-3 reading adoption. And I will tell you that, even though it was not required, about 90% of the staff was here on those days,” said Anderson.
Grade 7-12 mathematics is another area of focus. “The 7-12 math teachers will have the opportunity for 54 hours of professional development focused on math. We know that is an area of concern when we are looking at our academic data, so we do plan on bringing those consultants back in next year to work with our teachers.”