Dysart staring at steep funding decrease

By Jennifer Jimenez
Independent Newsmedia

The 2017-18 proposed budget for the Dysart Unified School District has been set, almost.

Prior to July 15, the budget for the next school year will have to be approved. District Executive Director of Business Services Jack Eaton and his team put together the major components of the budget to present during the June 14 governing board meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Gail Pletnick thanked Mr. Eaton and his team for the fluidity in the constantly changing processes of building a budget. A final budget figure should be available by the June 28 meeting, though some funding sources will not be known until midway through the 2017-18 school year.

“He really is looking at all options and opportunities so even during a time there is a struggle with the budget, Dysart is very well prepared to meet the needs of our schools,” Ms. Pletnick said.

Dysart Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gail Pletnick speaks with a student. [File photo]
The amount of money available to the district is expected to decrease by $9.8 million from 2016-17, Mr. Eaton said.

The general budget limit provided by state funding decreased by $1.9 million, with unrestricted capital money dropping by $7.5 million — this is a combination of district additional assistance and less unspent capital money — and federal related funding is expected to fall $370,000. Mr. Eaton said the net assessed value of 5.1 percent is a decrease in FY 2018 estimated tax rates.

“The Average Daily Membership funding (ADM) we were grandfathered in and so the bad news is our funding level basically incorporates two years of declined enrollment from FY 2017 and 2018. ADM we only get half of (the funding for each) kindergarten (student),” Mr. Eaton said.

Mr. Eaton explained the building blocks incorporated with the state budget. The strategic plan of the district guides the budget and he said his office has been working with various departments to feel out what they really need, and to see if that falls into the area of something they can be provided.

“Eighty percent of our budget is people and between salary and benefits, that’s how we get the strategic plan for people,” Mr. Eaton explained.

This year is different however because the district is funded based on current year average monitoring. In the past Mr. Eaton said he built the budget and knew exactly what the revenue would be based on the current school year.

“But that’s no longer the case,” Mr. Eaton said. “Beginning in 2017-18 the budget is built on the projections of declining enrollment for the past three years and next year we are expecting the same declining budget. We have to plan for significant change to charter school growth and history shows us that will cause declining enrollment.”

He said some good news is that the district did get a increase in state funding to 1.31 percent.

A salary increase for all staff of 1.2 percent also is planned. Performance-based pay from Proposition 201 increased by by $850.

Mr. Eaton said the teacher supplemental salary increase is 1.06 percent above what they were paid in fiscal year 2017. There’s also a required minimum wage increase effective 2018, that will have an effect on some positions.

Utilities have increased by 5 percent, with water going up more than 5 percent and electric a little less than 5. He said another positive area is the net assessed value that increased by 5.1 percent, which is the basis of where tax rates are determined.

“But again, I still won’t know what revenue we have to work with until the 100th school day of approximately Jan. 18,” Mr. Eaton said. “We have a good way of predicting that, but we don’t know exactly, but that is the new standard to seek revenue for our schools.”

Another change from last year is the one time pay boost of Proposition 123, which inflated last year’s budget.

Mr. Eaton said the maintenance and operations budget for fiscal year 2018 is lower than FY 2017. New certification relating to the 1.065 percent teacher salary increase is also needs to be figured in.

“But we are not going to calculate that number until September or October since we have to calculate what they were paid in (FY) 2017 and then apply it is a separate funding source and we are relying heavily on the support of human resources,” Mr. Eaton said. “We are fortunate to move some money from the general fund to capital, which we have done over the past two years and built up a large balance, but due to declining enrollment and the budget, we probably will no longer have that option.”

An aerial view of the Dysart Unified School District offices in Surprise. The rural Paradise Acres development is to the west. (Courtesy naturalpowerandenergy.com)

Mr. Eaton said capital budget they were able to carry forward money from year to year from M&O fund and began this school year with $16.9 million spent down almost $10 million this year, so we carry over $6.5 million, but that’s an estimate and the real number will not exist until bills are paid on June 30.

With the District Additional Assistance (DAA) formula, the state takes away 85.5 percent of the $11.5 million the formula generates for the district, meaning $9.8 million is not available.

“With Proposition 123 we gave 80 percent to staff salaries and 20 percent to support capital programs, so if you take what we are actually earning per year it is about $2.7 million, what we are getting for all capital items that have incurred throughout the year,” Mr. Eaton said.

The district spends more than $2.7 million for capital items on an annual basis, which means down the road DUSD will have to take money out of maintenance and operations just to pay license fees.

“That includes software and construction materials we use,” Dr. Pletnick says. “That means there’s no capital left for maintenance areas or new technology or for even major repairs or transportation.”

Board member Traci Sawyer-Sinkbeil said that is true unless the district goes out for capital bond or override by voters.

Board member Dr. Spencer Bailey said he was discouraged by what was written by legislators.

“How do you run a district when you are funding on levels they aren’t even there yet,” Dr. Bailey asked. “Kudos to your staff Mr. Eaton for even getting close.”

Mr. Bailey agreed with member Ms. Sawyer-Sinkbeil saying he thinks it is the board’s job to education people and the community on the importance of what the district is trying to do.

“It will require work from citizens to get on board, but it is something that needs to be looked at because this is not sustainable. I mean, if you can’t pay license fees on technology how do we function?” Dr. Bailey asked.

Ms. Pletnick echoed those concerns, saying without a bond, it’s a slow death.

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