Originally published Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 08:14p.m.

A calculated balance of 21st century educational programs, proper class sizes and competitive pay will require the Prescott Unified Governing Board to think hard this budget season about how best to invest taxpayer resources.

Student enrollment is on the decline – the prediction is about 145 fewer students for the next school year – and Prescott district leaders remain committed to steady increases of all staff salaries. The cost impact connected to decreased enrollment is about $800,000.

“You have to find ways to balance class sizes and programs but also salaries for all our important staff positions – certified (teachers), classified and administrators,” Chief Financial Officer Brian Moore said. “If any one of those areas gets out of balance, we’ll lose students or staff.”

At a school board retreat on March 8, a proposed budget package was unveiled that took into account a 5 percent teacher salary increase combined with 2 percent for all other employees – the district has 440 employees, 203 of them are teachers. The package includes a combination of increased expenses – medical costs, minimum wage impacts and a restructure of two district administrator positions – and projected increased revenues, including state dollars to cover the 5 percent teacher pay increase and a 2 percent inflation increase.

Attrition is expected to take care of staff reductions necessitated by changing enrollments. From last year to this year, Prescott saw a staff turnover of about 25 teachers, less than half of the number from three years earlier, Moore said.

The 2018-19 adjusted PUSD budget is $25.537 million; those figures are based on a statewide per pupil rate of $4,009.57 with enrollment calculated on the 100th day of school – kindergarteners are counted for only half that rate and pro-rated costs for those who arrived the first semester but did not attend all 100 days. The total district enrollment for this year is 3,841 students but only 3,607 are funded through the state per pupil cost formula.

To come up with a balance between $1.92 million increase in costs and increased revenues, Governing Board members will need to adjust some $700,000 at both the district and the school levels, Moore explained.

This proposed budget takes into account a prioritization process oriented around ensuring that the educational success of students is never far from mind, Moore said.

One of those key areas is staff-to-student ratios: the district class size goal is no more than 24 students in a kindergarten class, no more than 25 in first grade, 27 and 28 in second and third grades, 30 between fourth and sixth grades, 32 in seventh and eighth grades and 35 in all high school classes.

“As a new board member, I found the retreat very helpful,” said Deb Dillon, a retired educator elected to the board in November. She was joined by another retired educator Connie Donovan. “We had our first look at a budget overview.

“Naturally, the continued decrease in our student numbers, caused by families with children leaving our areas, is our greatest concern. However, our focus remains on providing the best possible experience for our students.”

In the next couple weeks prior to the vote on the proposed budget, Moore and fellow district leaders, including Superintendent Joe Howard, will meet with board members individually so that they have a good sense of the expenses, revenues and other such costs before they make their individual decisions.

Moore said a final proposed budget figure will not be available until those meetings have occurred, and he has a better sense of the state’s contributions.

“We’re very lucky to have a very supportive, but inquisitive, Governing Board that will do right by students and staff,” Moore concluded.

The board is scheduled to vote on a proposed budget package on April 2 with a final budget proposal to be forwarded to the state Department of Education in July. If approved, employee contracts will be mailed out on April 3.