Between fiscal years 2001 and 2014, Arizona’s total operational spending per pupil increased 41 percent. Despite this increase, Arizona school districts still spent approximately $3,000 less per pupil than the national average. Arizona districts also allocated resources differently than the national averages, spending lower percentages of available operating dollars on instruction and administration, and higher percentages on all other nonclassroom areas, particularly plant operations and student support services.
In fiscal year 2014, for the second consecutive year, Arizona districts spent 53.8 percent of available operating dollars on instruction—the lowest percentage in the 14 years our Office has been monitoring district spending. The state-wide percentage decreased every year between fiscal years 2004 and 2013 before remaining flat in fiscal year 2014. Over this same 10-year period, the percentage of resources allocated to administration, plant operations, food service, transportation, student support, and instruction support have all increased. The importance of the declining classroom dollar percentage varies by district depending on the cause of the decline.
Although factors outside a district’s control—such as district size, type, and location—can affect its efficiency, some districts operate efficiently and have lower costs despite these factors, while others do not. As a result, there are wide ranges of costs within peer groups of similar districts. Performance audits of school districts have identified practices used by efficient districts, such as minimizing staffing levels, conserving energy, and effectively managing vendor contracts. Audits have also identified practices that make other districts less efficient, such as having costly benefit packages, operating schools far below designed capacity, and paying employees for time not spent working.
Finally, analysis of six measures found 57 of 208 districts had a moderate to high financial stress level. District decision makers can use the details of this assessment in conjunction with other information, such as operating efficiency, to determine possible actions to reduce financial stress.