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Graham County schools outperform state on Auditor General’s report

John Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Aerial photo showing the start of construction on Pima's new high school. In this article, Pima Superintendent Sean Rickert provides a breakdown of school spending and the Arizona State Comptroller's annual report.

Written by Sean E. Rickert/Pima Schools Superintendent

John Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Pima Superintendent Sean Rickert

PHOENIX – Now that it's March, the Arizona State Auditor's Office is evaluating how well schools are doing in their efforts to turn taxpayer dollars into quality education for Arizona's children. We have released the analyzed school expenditure report. This report is long and erratic. There are a lot of numbers out there, but what do they say about what people really care about?

Collectively, we expect schools to meet the needs of children to grow, learn, and ultimately prepare for a prosperous future. This report has a lot to say about how schools are approaching this initiative and outlines how that approach is influenced by the funding available to them.

First, we can reasonably assume that all things being equal, a school that spends $52,000 per student should do a better job of meeting a child's needs than a school that spends $8,300. Not so in Arizona. far cry. Let's take all the schools and rank them based on operating costs per student. That is expenses other than buildings, real estate acquisition, equipment, and interest on debt. The bottom 10 includes 20 districts. That's where you'll find Safford, Thatcher, and Pima. All of these 20 poorest school districts are in the top half of school districts based on reading test scores, and all but two are in the top half based on math. The two students with poor math scores are not in Graham County. Spending on schools does not guarantee academic performance.

Arizona schools are divided into four groups based on per-pupil spending. Some range from $18,000 to $52,000. These are either very small school districts whose budget capacity is not determined by enrollment, or districts that receive additional funding from the federal government. Bonita Elementary School is in a very small group, spending $22,000 per student. Fort Thomas is in her second group, spending about $20,000 per student. Second, some districts supplement their budgets with additional funding from additional property taxes. These priority districts typically have large property tax payers, such as power plants, mines, or significant commercial or industrial facilities. For each student he spends from $11,000 to $18,000. Charter schools, which are not included in the report, receive between $10,000 and $11,000 per student. That's the rest. School districts like Safford, Thatcher, and Pima spend less than $10,000 per student. Thatcher state is the lowest, spending about 75% of the state average.

The report also includes information on teacher salaries. We recognize that teachers are the most important factor influencing a student's education, and a high teacher salary makes a difference. Because experienced teachers are paid more than less experienced teachers, the report includes information on teacher longevity by district. Statewide, the average teacher has approximately 12 years of experience and receives a salary of $62,934. Average teacher salaries in Graham County range from $52,938 in Pima County to $67,349 in Safford County. But while the average Safford teacher has almost 11 years of experience, the average Pima teacher has less than 9 years of experience. Salaries for experienced teachers are high, with 44% of Pima teachers in their first three years of service, which is more than double her level at Safford. The statewide average salary for a first three-year teacher is nearly $48,000, while the average for a new teacher in the Gila Valley is between $34,500 and $42,000. Low salaries are primarily due to low overall spending per student. Another factor that affects teacher pay is class size. Funding is determined based on the number of students, so the more students each teacher has, the more funds are available for salaries. Thatcher and Safford both have higher student-teacher ratios than the state average, but Pima is lower.

A notable difference between Graham County schools and the state average is the percentage of funding spent on education, particularly the classroom. The average school district across the state spends $0.69 of every dollar on educational services and $0.53 on classrooms. If you look at Thatcher, Safford, and Pima, you'll see that they spend 72.6% to 75.5% of their spending on education, and 62% to 67% of their spending goes to classrooms. This demonstrates a commitment to putting the limited funding available into classrooms where it can have the greatest impact on student learning.

Research shows that nothing correlates more closely with student achievement than the efforts a school district puts resources closer to where students learn. Safford, Thatcher, and Pima each belong to different “peer groups” based on their size, but all rank at the top of their peer groups based on operational efficiency. Graham County spends a higher percentage of its resources on education than anywhere else in the state. Arizona has some of the most efficient schools in the nation and perhaps the world. For every dollar spent on education, we produce more academic achievement and growth than any other school system. This is a tribute to the dedication of educators. Nowhere is this more evident than in Graham County. In Graham County, schools allocate half as many resources to classrooms as the statewide average. You'll spend less, but investing more carefully will give you better results than you expected.

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