Governor Doug Ducey

On June 24, Governor Doug Ducey announced a $270-million package to aid schools reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board approved a $373 million budget for the next school year, though there are still some financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bulk of that budget – about 44 percent, or $174 million – is allocated to the district’s maintenance and operations budget, which pays for most day-to-day expenditures in a school district.

About 55 percent of the M&O budget will be spent on in-classroom instructional costs with another 10 percent allocated to student support like nurses and guidance counselors. Another four percent is allocated to instructional services, including librarians and curriculum development.

“Those three together total 69 percent, so that’s a healthy part of our budget is directly in the classroom or supports for the classroom,” Director of Finance Shannon Crosier said.

The budget includes a 5 percent raise for salary increase for all employees, including teachers.

 That increase led to a significant increase in funding for student support services within the M&O over the previous year – 16.5 percent, or about $1.2 million.

Instructional spending also rose 5.2 percent, or $3.4 million, with most of the increase coming from salaries and benefits.

Overall, the M&O budget increased by about $8.5 million.

The district’s budget for student transportation also continues to rise. The $9 million budgeted for transportation is 6.2 percent higher than last year’s total, which was itself a 10.8 percent increase over the prior year.

The rising transportation costs are the result of a statewide bus driver shortage that has forced the district – and others around the state – to rely on more expensive contractors, outgoing Superintendent John Kriekard said. 

Board President Allyson Beckham suggested staff study whether increasing pay even more would help the district fill the positions while still saving money compared to the contractors currently used.

CFO Jeff Gadd addressed another possible solution to the problem: adding a third school start time in the district, which would “save about 10 drivers.” He also noted that most districts of a similar size already have three start times.

But that is not a short-term solution, Gadd said, noting that the district would have to study the possibility of adding a third start time over the next year.

Though SUSD’s new budget increased over the prior year, it does account for an anticipated loss of enrollment – an issue the district has fought for the past decade.

The new budget accounts for a loss of 275 ADM, or average daily membership, based on projections in a recent demographic study performed by Applied Economics, though the district has contingencies in place for a loss of upward of 500 students.

Overall, the district had enrollment of 21,543 on the 100th day of this school year, well above the anticipated enrollment of 21,083, though it still marked a loss of 60 students over the previous year.

Additionally, Crosier said money allocated to the district from the federal pandemic relief package – could be used to offset the loss of an additional 200 students.

The district is grappling with how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will affect enrollment.

Gadd said the picture is still largely unclear.

“The impact of COVID is obviously very difficult to know what will happen with that,” Gadd said, noting that the district has contingencies in place for a loss of up to 525 students this year, which well exceeds projections.

On June 24, the state stepped in and provided some stability for districts concerned about enrollment.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman announced $270 million in funding for schools coping with the pandemic, including $200 million “to increase funding for remote learning and to protect schools against budget shortfalls due to declining enrollment.”

Ducey also announced that districts will receive equal funding whether a student learns online or in the classroom – a change from the previous policy in which districts received more money for students who learn in the classroom.

The district announced via a letter to parents in June that it is considering offering multiple options next year, including online, hybrid and traditional in-person learning with increased cleaning and safety measures.

According to a survey put out by the district, around 60 percent of families indicated they planned to send their children back to the classroom while around 20 percent would opt for the online-only option, Kriekard said.

Kriekard said around 50 percent of teachers responded that they would come back to the classroom. That could exacerbate already short-staffed classrooms in Arizona, which has experienced a teacher shortage for years.

Under Ducey’s plan, $6 million will go to the Arizona Teachers Academy in an attempt to attract more potential teachers into the profession.

Increased expenditures for cleaning, protective equipment and other precautions totaled $160,000 in the current school year and the same amount has been budgeted for 2020-21. 

Gadd, the CFO, said the district spent $160,000 on corona virus-related expenses last year and budgeted the same amount this year in the district’s M&O budget. 

Ducey also announced on June 24 that the state had suspended procurement rules for districts to purchase protective gear and related expenses.