CCUSD still needs to justify K-3 override

By Linda Bentley | August 19, 2009

District double-dipped all-day kindergarten funding while increasing superintendent’s pay by more than 30 percent

Kent Frison and Debbi BurdickAssociate Superintendent of Finance Kent Frison and Superintendent Debbi Burdick said they consulted with the district’s attorneys regarding use of the 2000 bond proceeds and to review the “K-3 Override Renewal Election Information Fact Sheet” posted on the district’s website prior to posting it.
Photo by Linda Bentley

CCUSD – Looking back at the last five years of annual reports submitted to the state by Cave Creek Unified School District, which begins with July 2003 and ends with June 2008, one thing in particular stands out and that’s the superintendent’s salary.

During that period of time, the superintendent’s salary has gone from $99,945 in 2003 to $140,728 in 2008. That’s an increase of 41 percent, the bulk of which, a little over 30 percent, was after the now departed Tacy Ashby’s first year as superintendent. The following year provided the position an additional 3.8 percent increase with another 2.3 percent raise last year.

There are a total of eight schools in the CCUSD – five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.

Looking at surrounding districts, such as Fountain Hills, the superintendent earns $100,000 overseeing two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, while Paradise Valley pays its superintendent $113,519 to oversee 47 schools, at Deer Valley the pay is $171,377 to oversee 37 schools, while Scottsdale pays $197,102 to oversee 34 schools.

The average salary for teachers at CCUSD has fluctuated in the low to mid $40Ks somewhat but is on par at $45,216 with area districts, which range from 43,575 at Fountain Hills Unified to $46,831 at Scottsdale Unified, while the county average is $48,727.

In 2008, per pupil spending in Maricopa County averaged $8,610, compared to Cave Creek $9,985, Deer Valley $7,496, Fountain Hills $10,484, Paradise Valley $9,311 and Scottsdale $11,163.

In 2004, before the override, CCUSD spent an average of $9,739 per student, dropping to $9,239 in 2005.

After passing the K-3 override in May 2005, CCUSD spent approximately $8,800 per student and, in 2006, after receiving additional money from the state for all-day kindergarten, per-student expenditures rose to $10,400.

Last year, that number was approximately $9,985.

Interestingly, the overall teacher-student ratio hasn’t really budged much since 2004, which reflected 1 teacher per 19.38 students, 19.08 students in 2005, 18.51 in 2006, 18.74 in 2007 and 18.34 in 2008.

According to Superintendent Debbi Burdick, the district called 66 teachers back that received reduction in force notices in April, although nine had since found other jobs.
The district has since hired an additional 10 teachers.

Burdick said five administrative positions have been cut and the district is down to 20 from 25.

CCUSD’s annual report indicates there were 17 administrative positions in 2004, 18 in 2005, 20 in 2006, 22 in 2007 and 21.20 in 2008.

The number of certified employees categorized as “others” changed during that same period from 15 in 2004 to 28.5 in 2008.

What the district has said would occur if the K-3 override doesn’t pass, is it will have to eliminate five teachers per year over the next three years, although it’s still not clear why.

There were 64 teacher aides in 2004 and 2005, or one per 81 and 83 students, respectively.

In 2006, the number of aides rose to 83, or one per 69 students. There were 75 in 2007, one per 79 students; 76 in 2008, one per 77 students.

Sonoran News questioned why, if the district had already called for a Nov. 3 Election, did it opt to have legislation drafted to try to use the 2000 bonds issued in September 2006 for other purposes than originally intended, rather than put it to the voters.

According to Associate Superintendent of Finance Kent Frison, the district’s attorney said it is not allowed and all the district can do if it wants to do something different is to hold a new bond election for that purpose.

When asked what will happen with the bonds issued in 2006, since the law requires bond proceeds to be expended within three years of issuance, Frison said the three-year law doesn’t apply because the bonds were issued “in good faith” with the intent to build a new high school.

Actually, records indicate the school board voted to issue the bonds without any specific intent other than the bonds were going to expire if not issued.

It wasn’t until long after the governing board decided to build a 2500-student high school on the south campus and abandon or “repurpose” Cactus Shadows High School, for which taxpayers were still paying off bonds.

The board then asked voters to approve an all-or-nothing $123.3 million bond package and a $32.6 million capital override.

Both measures failed at the polls by substantial margins.

So, it’s not clear how the district’s attorney construed the bonds issued in September 2006 were issued with any particular intent.

Meanwhile, the district is using 10 percent of the proceeds, as would otherwise be permitted by law, to fund other projects.

Frison said the rest of the bond proceeds may be used to pay down existing debt. However, there’s a time period that must lapse before the district can call the 15-year bonds. So, taxpayers are paying interest and fees on that money and will have nothing to show for it other than the projects funded using 10 percent of the proceeds.

The K-3 override passed by voters in 2005 was for the purpose of funding all-day kindergarten, or at least that’s what district residents were told.

Immediately after its passage, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a budget including statewide funding for all-day kindergarten.

To this day, it’s still not clear where the override funds were used.

The district added all-day kindergarten when the override passed and then received state funding for the same.

True, the K-3 override is in its last year of full funding. While the state is now paying for something it wasn’t paying for before passage of the override, it’s difficult to understand the perils of the one-third per year reduction in funding, especially since the superintendent’s salary increased by more than 30 percent the year immediately after the override passed.

Then there’s the “K-3 Override Renewal Election Information Fact Sheet” posted on the district’s website in both English and Spanish. The only “informational report” state statute authorizes school districts to distribute regarding override elections is defined in A.R.S. 15-481(B)(C) and states precisely what “the report shall contain.”

CCUSD’s “Fact Sheet” does not contain that required statutory information.