A second-grade class Kyrene de la Paloma in Chandler

Tim Hacker/ Tribune

Arizona's schools saw half a percent drop in classroom spending, according to an annual report released Tuesday from the Auditor General.

The figures show slightly less than 56 cents of every dollar spent in the 2009-10 school year was used for "classroom instruction," including salaries and benefits for teachers, aides and coaches. It also covers supplies like pencils and paper, athletics, and activities like band or choir.

In the last few years, Arizona schools have seen a decline in the dollars they receive from a 2000 voter-created tax and other revenue.

Proposition 301 created the classroom site fund, which gave public schools - charter and district - extra dollars from a designated sales tax and revenues from state land sales.

But because of the economy, both those areas have seen drops, decreasing the dollars available to schools, said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

"That's an important factor," Essigs said. "As people look at the report just issued, they should recognize that was a significant loss of revenue in the classroom."

In fact, from the 2007-08 school year to the 2009-10 school year - which is covered by the recent Auditor General's report - the classroom site fund dropped by 48 percent, or $224 million.

"That certainly impacted the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom," Essigs said.

Mesa Unified School District, the largest in the state, saw a half a percent drop in classroom spending, according to the report.

But it also saw a drop in how much it spends in administrative costs, from 7.9 percent in 2009 to 7.7 percent in 2010.

Arizona school districts average 9.5 percent spending on administrative costs, according to the report.

Mesa assistant superintendent for business services Gerrick Monroe said teachers have not had a raise in several years, while the costs to operate the district continue to rise, from transportation to utilities to health care expenses.

Like the past few years, school districts are facing potential cuts as the state grapples with a deficit - more than $1 billion next year.

"We've made our reductions as much as possible outside the classroom," Monroe said.

With the drop in the classroom site funds, teachers have seen about a $2,500 drop in their incentive pay in the last two years, he said.

"Even though we've stepped in from a contractual standpoint and tried to keep their salaries as similar as possible, their bonus portion fluctuates depending on (classroom site fund) revenue that has come in," he said.

In fact, Auditor General Debra Davenport listed total operational spending per pupil for last school year at $7,609, compared with $7,908 the year before.

And Arizona remains close to $2,500 below the national average in per pupil spending.

Selected districts (%):

School district % 10 money in instruction 2009 2008 2007  2006
Apache Junction Unified 55.00% 56.90% 54.50% 55.80% 54.50%
Chandler Unified 62.00% 62.40% 62.30% 63.20% 63.70%
Gilbert Unified 62.00% 62.70% 63.20% 63.00% 63.30%
Higley Unified 54.90% 55.00% 57.00% 57.70% 58.60%
Kyrene Elementary 61.00% 62.90% 63.30% 63.50% 64.00%
Mesa Unified 59.30% 59.80% 61.40% 62.10% 62.70%
Queen Creek Unified 59.90% 59.70% 60.70% 60.00% 57.80%
Tempe Elementary 54.20% 56.00% 55.30% 55.40% 55.50%
Tempe Union 56.70% 56.80% 59.90% 59.70% 59.60%

Source: Auditor General's Office

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

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