AJUSD Board Meets in Work Session

Multitude of topics reveals drive toward improvement

By Dana Trumbull

The Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board work session on Sept. 25 included extensive information concerning the strategies to improve academic scores, stabilize the academic calendar, address enrollment issues and create consensus on norms and expectations for Board conduct. In addition, Business Manager Cindy Reichert presented the mandatory Annual Financial Report (AFR) for 2017-18.

Annual Financial Report

The AFR, which must be submitted to the Arizona Department of Education and the County School Superintendent’s Office by October 15, shows detailed budgeted and actual expenditures for virtually all areas and accounts. Data from district AFRs is used  by the Arizona Dept. of Education to calculate state per pupil funding. Other programs make use of the data indirectly, informing researchers and government policymakers as they consider education policy.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Special Education expenditures increased by $127,373 or 2.5% over funding year 2016-17, accounting for approximately 24.8% of the M&O budget. The primary reason for the increase is the cost of paid professional services – contracted psychologists, therapists and teachers. “I think it’s important to remember that public school districts can’t turn away the children with special needs, so if we can’t provide those services, we have to pay for the cost to send them someplace where they can,” commented Board member Christa Rizzi. “Charter schools don’t have to do that. It’s a different ballgame.”
  • Unrestricted Capital expenditures decreased by $59,715 or 6.5%.
  • Collectively, total Classroom Site Fund expenditures increased by $125,005, or 11.7%, including an increase in performance pay for teachers equivalent to 31.1%.

The full report can be viewed online: AJUSD FULL AFR or read the highlights: AFR HIGHLIGHTS

Math Professional Development

Asst. Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cruz discussed hiring a math consultant. “The professional development provided would target grades 7-12. We want to make sure that we’re really increasing the rigor and practice as the kids go through… so we want to make sure the teachers understand both the content and the process standards. You want to be able to put your kiddo in any math class and experience really high quality rigorous math instruction that’s going to get them ready for the next level.” See the presentation HERE.

The funding source will be Rural monies. Administrators intend to move forward with the training in November. “Looking at the math scores, we just really don’t have any time to waste.”

Academic Calendar

Director of Educational Services Heather Wallace shared two options for future academic calendars. The calendars will be shared with staff for input, prior to bringing them back to the Board for consideration and approval. “Once we have 2019-20 ‘patterned,’ we will work to create 2020-21 and possibly 2021-22 so that people have some longevity in knowing when they have to be at work and can plan family vacations and all those things.” Preview Option A HERE or Preview Option B HERE.

Demographics

Since 2014-15, when AJUSD switched to a four-day calendar, the district has lost approximately 1000 students. In an effort to define the relative size of the known loss and potential enrollment figures, Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson proposed a demographic analysis of students, “So that we can fully understand the number of students that live in our attendance boundaries.” The information would then be used to target marketing strategies.

The district would have Applied Economics create a database and produce ten year projections of student populations, with enrollment by grade level. In addition to marketing, the district will use the data to inform Board action on the sale of real property. “We know we have property that we can put out there to sell, but before we do that, we really need to know, ten years from now, are we going to need to reopen those campuses?”

The cost of the research and database creation is $12,840, which is equivalent to state funding for 2.5 students. “I think it is an investment that is worth making,” said Anderson. The expense would be paid through Facility Rental fees.

See the presentation HERE.

Board Norms

On August 29, the AJUSD Governing Board met with a facilitator from the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) in an attempt to resolve some internal conflict and establish “Board Norms and Expectations” for professional conduct. A draft of the resulting “agreements” was presented at the September 25 meeting for Board consideration. Further discussion is planned for October 23, with a vote for adoption planned for October 31. The approved document would be added to the Governing Board Operation Manual and reviewed annually.

The document, however, was not without opposition, as Board Member Christa Rizzi, strongly objected to verbiage that she felt was specifically targeting her interaction on social media concerning Board proceedings and other Board members. “I have to question whether some of these things that we are being asked to agree to aren’t first amendment violations… what I see is that this is directed toward one specific board member that’s on social media that this board and superintendent want to shut down.”

Dr. Anderson requested that Ms. Rizzi submit, in writing, the specific changes she would need to see on the document in order for her to consider approval. The document will be reconsidered at the Oct. 23 meeting.

The full document may be viewed HERE.

*Note: Page 2 includes a section entitled “Board IMMEDIATE Next Steps.” This portion of the document would NOT be included in the official Norms and Procedures. The suggested steps are intended as a short term moratorium “to deescalate the current environment and move to a more unified board.”

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