The Mesa Public Schools Board passed a budget that far exceeded anyone’s most optimistic expectations, leaving members to figure out how to spend a surplus no one ever anticipated.
“Our very conservative estimates,” said Scott Thompson, assistant superintendent of business services, “were very wrong.”
The district has cautiously budgeted an increase of $88 per student for the upcoming school year. Instead, the Legislature earmarked some of the state’s $5 billion surplus for K-12 schools — which, for Mesa, means instead of an increase in $88 per student from 2021 to 2022, the figure increases to $384 for the new school year.
“Unprecedented. Pretty incredible,” Thompson said.
“Very exciting,” said Ken Alexander, CFO of MPS. “I’m very excited about this opportunity and can’t wait to see what great things we can do with this extra money.
“I think most of us would be shocked because we really had no idea how it was because there were a lot of moving parts with it.”
For the first time ever, the MPS budget exceeds half a billion dollars – 515 million, to be exact. It’s not rhetoric. This is the actual number of unrestricted dollars that schools will work with.
This includes a $32.6 million increase in the maintenance and operations fund, which covers most day-to-day operations, including salaries, and a $3 million increase for capital projects.
There will be a lot of differing interests and opinions on how the surplus should be spent, but there seems to be a general consensus that the money should get to the classroom somehow. another one.
“We want to increase teachers’ salaries, in a competitive way. We tried to fix this before we even knew it was happening,” Thompson said. “We were on a 4% increase. Most districts were not.
So we tried to be aggressive in this area.
Thompson speculated aloud, when asked, that increasing teacher salaries could potentially make Mesa schools more competitive in the race to attract and hire teachers.
Board member Marcie Hutchinson hopes so.
She seized the very moment before the official passage of the budget to remind fellow council members that the council stands to benefit from “one of the strongest job markets we’ve seen in decades,” she said. she declared.
“In order to serve our children, we need to have our best professionals in class with them,” she said. “People make the difference in the classroom. One of the things that keeps me up at night is vacancies and making sure our kids are served by the best people possible.
MPS has worked to address staffing shortages in some key areas, including special education.
Rachel Waldon, who is running for one of two expiring seats on the board, spoke as a member of the community and offered her thoughts on the budget.
“I’m an efficiency expert from my background in Corporate America. So that’s something I watch,” Waldon said.
“What we really need to look at is classroom funding, not administration funding. I recommend that there be an assessment of efficiencies. After-school study sessions, for example, would be something that would really help our students,” she continued, adding:
“The district provided funding for the tutoring, but it was online only. Many parents are really looking for something that’s in-person and hands-on and resources for teachers in the classroom.
Kiana Maria Sears encouraged her fellow board members to think about filling the gaps she believes exist in the current budget.
“I think it gives us an opportunity to do some necessary things in terms of salary adjustments,” she said, “and some places where we have disparities.”
Salaries are just one of many issues the MPS board will face when developing its spending plan, although it is clearly the largest segment.
“We need to provide more services today than ever before,” Thompson said. “It’s about the teachers in the classroom, but today we have to deal with so many other things… their social, emotional health, their safety. There is a lot to do and we need funding to doing it, so that’s a good boost.”
The first day of classes for Mesa schools is August 4.