Mesa Public Schools spent more money in the classroom last school year than many school districts did but student passing rates in all three subjects on state assessment tests were below the statewide average.

According to a report issued last week by the state Auditor General on districts’ spending and student achievement in 2021-22, MPS devoted 72.8% of all expenditures to the classroom.

That money was spent in three ways, the report notes.

Instruction spending comprised 56.7% of all expenditures – higher than the 56.4% spent in pandemic-challenged 2020-21.

The report defines instruction spending as the cost of “teachers, teachers’ aides, substitute teachers, graders, guest lecturers, instructional supplies and aids, field trips, athletics, co-curricular activities, and tuition.”

Student support comprised another 9.9% of the total district spending last school year. That covers the cost of “counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists, nurses, social workers, and attendance services,” according to the report.

Additionally, another 6.2% of the total budget went to instruction support, defined as “Librarians, teacher training, curriculum development, special education directors, media specialists, and instruction-related technology services.

In dollars, per-pupil classroom spending increased last school year over 2020-21 by $705 to $6,515 for instruction, $77 to $1,142 for student support and by $68 to $713 for instruction support, the report states.

In looking at state assessment test scores for last year, the report shows MPS students with a 31% passing rate for math while the statewide average was 33%. 

That state average was lower than the 42% passing rate logged in 2018-19 – the last time assessment tests were administered before the two-year hiatus created by campus closures.

Mesa’s passing rate for English Language Arts last school year also was. below the state average – 38% versus 40% – while the district’s passing rate in science of 21% was below the state average of 24%.

According to the report, all three passing rates for MPS students were higher than they were in districts of a similar size, type and location (rural vs. suburban). MPS is Arizona’s largest district in terms of number of students

The report says that the Auditor General compares  spending between comparably sized districts and the state average to “help identify opportunities for increased efficiency,” potentially freeing up more education dollars for student learning.

For non-classroom spending – covering administration, plant operations, food service and transportation – per-pupil spending by MPS last school year rose by $1,202 over the previous year.

The biggest share of that increase occurred in food service expenditures, which rose by $121 to $506 per pupil.

Broken down by meals, the report said MPS’ spending was “high” at $3.45 per meal as opposed to a state average of $3.25 and a peer district average of $3.03.

Also considered high in the report is MPS’ expenditures per square foot on plant operations at $7.70 per square foot compared to a state average of $7.21 and peer district spending of $7.23 per square foot.

Transportation spending also was rated high. The report says MPS spent $6.36 per mile, compared to a state average of $5.53 and a peer average of  $5.70.

In the 2021-2022 school year the district reduced the share of dollars going to plant operations by four-tenths of a percent, while spending on food services grew by six-tenths of a percent.

The report found Mesa’s $913 in per pupil spending on administration comparable with peer districts’ spending and lower than the state average of $1,088.

But in terms of the number of students for each administrator, MPS had far fewer than either peer districts or the state average. The report said MPS has only 59 students per administrator compared to a state average of 63 and a peer district average of 71.

State-wide, teacher salaries grew in Arizona last year, with 72% of districts increasing their average salaries last year.

The average MPS teacher salary of $66,459 in 2021-2022 crushed the state average of $58,366. 

The average teacher salary in Arizona has been growing steadily since 2017, but last year MPS’ wages for teachers grew faster than the state average, 5.7% year-over-year vs. 3.5% state-wide.

MPS teachers are also more experienced with an average of 13.7 years’ experience vs.11.8 years state-wide. Similarly, MPS reported a lower percentage of teachers in their first three years of teaching, 15% vs. 18% for the state.

The district’s special education population of 17% is significantly higher than the state average of 13%, and MPS’ English-learner population is 7%, just below the 8% state average.

The report also said MPS’ student population of 55,027 last school year represented a 5% decline over what it was five years earlier.

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