The Cave Creek Unified School District is keenly aware of the challenges faced across America in 2020 resulting from COVID-19. Many sectors of the economy have suffered because of closures, quarantines, and the associated effects of the pandemic. The Cave Creek Unified School District is no exception.
In January 2020, enrollment in the District was 5,488 and today, enrollment is approximately 5,100 or a decrease of approximately 400 students. Since the number of students attending school dictate the District’s budget, the District is facing a potential budget shortfall in fiscal year 2022 of approximately $4.1 million dollars, which represents a budget reduction of over 11 percent. This would be difficult in anyone’s budget but especially difficult when salary and benefits for employees equals 80 percent of the district’s operating budget.
Every school district in Arizona is unique and entered the pandemic in a different financial position. Historically 48th/49th in the nation in per-pupil funding in the United States, the State of Arizona support for public schools is markedly lower than the rest of the country. The Cave Creek Unified School District is unique because it is the only K-12 school district in Maricopa County that does not have additional funding from either Maintenance and Operations, Capital Outlay override, bond, or all three. The district does, however, have the lowest combined tax rate of any unified school district in Maricopa County of $1.8155.
It is important to note, at this point, for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2020, before the country felt the full impact of the pandemic, the Arizona Auditor General’s Office placed Cave Creek School District on a watch list for “approaching highest financial risk” for the following reasons:
- Decline in General Fund revenues
- Decline in General Fund balances
- Decline in student count (the current capture rate of school-age children is about 50 percent)
- Decline in operating budget limit reserves
- Capital monies redirected to the Operations budget
In addition, some other factors determining the district’s financial position are:
- The District has not passed a Maintenance and Operations override since 2007
- The State reduced Capital funding up to 85 percent for many years beginning in 2009
- Funding for all-day-kindergarten was eliminated in 2011, forcing districts to fund it within their operating budgets
- World Language Programs began with Spanish in 2003, Chinese in 2014, and French in 2016 with no additional funding and currently cost around $2.3 million dollars a year.
For many years, the district has attempted to keep programs alive by reducing staff, being creative, closing a school, and taking funding from Capital Outlay and placing it in the operating budget. The pandemic, with its accompanying decline in student count, has forced the district to make very difficult decisions regarding people and programs.
The administration’s goal is to make necessary budget reductions to maintain the long-range financial stability of the district, provide quality mandated programs for students to fulfill high school graduation requirements, and employ adequate staff to execute those programs. This is “why” the district is no longer able to sustain the level of programs/services it has enjoyed in the past. Notwithstanding these variables, I am both optimistic and committed to the vision that not only can the Cave Creek Unified School District maintain its level of excellence but continue to improve the positive impact on our students so they can lead successful lives after high school.