Below is the latest constituent letter from TUSD board member Mark Stegeman. In April, Rachael Sedgwick and Stegeman voted to make the TUSD budget for next year have more than 50% going to the classroom and no more than 10% going to the bloated administration in TUSD. Michael Hicks joined Adelita Grijalva and Kristel Foster in voting this down.
Dear supporters and correspondents,
This is the first in a series of single-topic notes on TUSD’s progress under the new board (which may be incrementally evolving into a more unified board). My letters this year have focused mainly on the superintendent transition, so there is catching up to do.
The problem of high administrative spending and low instructional spending
A longstanding concern about TUSD is its top-heavy administration. Various data, including TUSD’s annual external audits, confirm the problem.
The Auditor General’s annual reports on Arizona’s school districts are especially useful data, because they apply the same objective standards to every district. These reports, released around March 1 every year, divide each district’s spending during the previous fiscal year into seven categories. (This year’s report on TUSD is attached to the email.)
The two most-discussed categories are Instructional and Administrative spending. Including TUSD, seven Arizona districts have more than 30,000 students. If we take this to be TUSD’s peer group, then TUSD compares very unfavorably to its six peers:
Elimination of nine senior administrative positions.
In January, I had hoped that new leadership could radically simplify the organizational chart heading into 2017-18, shifting many millions of dollars out of Central and into the schools. The unexpectedly late appointment of an interim Superintendent, on the last day of March, has unfortunately made such an ambitious program impractical. Nevertheless, Dr. Trujillo hopes to trim $2-3 million from administrative spending, in the 2017-18 budget.
These cuts include the elimination of five senior administrative positions, which were earning an average annual salary exceeding $118,000. Attached to these eliminations are the elimination of three executive assistants and another assistant. Eliminating those nine positions produces over $767,000 in direct salary savings, with additional savings from the eliminated benefits packages. The responsibilities of these positions will be folded into other existing positions.
Percentage targets for instructional and administrative spending.
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On April 25, Sedgwick and I brought the following resolution to the Board:
The fiscal year 2017-2018 budget shall allocate at least 50% to Instruction at the most 10% to Administration, as measured by the state Auditor General’s office.
Unfortunately, the resolution failed 2-3 (Foster, Grijalva, and Hicks opposed), as did similar resolutions that I brought in 2012 and 2014. Sedgwick and I will probably try again for the 2018-19 budget cycle, with more aggressive targets than 50%/10%. I am optimistic that the current Board will eventually approve such targets, especially if we make the proposal earlier in the budget cycle.
We should aspire in the long run to match the best of our six peers, not merely their average performance. Indeed, we should aspire in the long run to be the best among our peers.
The 2017-18 budget process will be longer and deeper.
I asked for a budget study session on April 8, and the Board received a long and excellent presentation on state funding formulas, historical budgets, and almost everything except next year’s budget. This was discouraging. I think the current Board is committed to starting the 2018-19 budget process within several months, to allow time for a deep review of current spending, staffing formulas, and funding priorities. I am personally committed to a significant increase in instructional spending in 2018-19.
External help with the organizational chart.
I have asked for a Board resolution, on June 13, to allow the Board President to pursue a low-cost consulting contract to produce recommendations to shrink and rationalize TUSD’s top-heavy organizational chart, based on best practice in high-performing districts. (TUSD hires too many consultants, but sometimes it is important to get objective advice from the outside.) This is similar to the March 28 resolution that allowed Hicks to identify a superintendent search consultant, which ultimately led to the contract with Nic Clement.
Closing the hole in the budget.
Unfortunately, much of the money saved through administrative cuts will be used to fill a significant hole in the budget, which comes partly from ongoing substantial enrollment losses. It is discouraging that these losses have continued during a period of gradual economic growth in Tucson and the entry of few major new charter schools. (The relief from new charter entry is, unfortunately, about to end.)
I believe that the current Board is committed to major and rapid changes in organizational culture and performance. This should help to stem enrollment losses and, beyond that, to rebuild enrollment. With more than a third of the students who live in TUSD enrolled in non-TUSD schools, the scope for enrollment growth is substantial.
My next short report will discuss progress on another issue. Thanks again for your interest in TUSD.
Also published on Medium.