Chandler Unified School District officials no longer expect teacher layoffs to adapt to the district’s fluctuating enrollment numbers.
Administrators had estimated earlier this year that up to 180 positions would have to be cut after they foresaw an $11-million loss to the district’s budget.
But Superintendent Camille Casteel said CUSD has reached a comfortable financial position that won’t require a major reduction in personnel. And the Governing Board last month also authorized 2-percent pay hikes for employees and certain bonuses if enrollment rebounds.
Chandler Unified’s about-face is similar to that of Mesa Public Schools, where administrators late last year warned positions would have to be cut because of a projected enrollment decline but who last month decided layoffs will not be required.
Casteel said other cost-cutting measures helped the district avert layoffs.
“We have reached that goal of an $11-million reduction in our budget in order to meet our goals,” Casteel said. “We are there.”
Casteel credited the district’s Human Resources Department with combing through all 5,000 job positions and finding ways to reassign employees to new jobs.
“They are dealing with every individual position and teacher,” the superintendent said. “They’ve done a tremendous job trying to avoid a real plummet in our morale.”
Due to a recent number of retirements and resignations, CUSD was able to move employees around and avoid layoffs.
“There will be some transfers, people will have to change schools or change positions,” Casteel added. “But they have a job.”
Since the pandemic began last year, CUSD has grappled with revenue decline brought on by a drop in enrollment as about 2,300 students left the district for other schools.
The same trend has occurred in most public-school districts across the state as parents seeking different learning options put their children in private or charter schools or opted for home schooling.
Many families in Chandler Unified resented the district’s frequent shifts between virtual and in-person instruction.
Arizona’s charter schools gained at least 18,000 new students at the beginning of the current school year, according to an October report by the state Department of Education.
Arizona public school enrollment decreased by 38,550 students, according to that report, with the biggest losses in early grades.
Statewide, preschool and kindergarten took the biggest hit with a loss of 16,000 students while grades 1-4 each lost about 2,000 students and grades 5-6 declined by over 5,000 each. High schools actually gained 236 students overall this year.
Projected enrollment declines had Chandler Unified administrators preparing for a decline in state reimbursement, which is tied to a district’s number of students.
Last month, they got some positive news after the Arizona Department of Education allocated $13 million in relief aid to help CUSD offset the pandemic’s financial impact.
CUSD also received some extra funding from the federal government to cover various expenses incurred while responding to the pandemic.
Another round of one-time federal funding also is coming sometime before the current school year ends, although the Education Department has not yet announced how it will be divvying up $600 million among districts in the state.
Chandler Unified officials say the district is now in a financial position to continue offering most benefits employees have come to expect and plan to hand out some bonuses once enrollment numbers start to rebound.
On March 24, the district’s Governing Board authorized a 2-percent salary raise for all district employees and increasing the district’s contribution to an employee’s health benefits.
All full-time employees can additionally expect to receive a $500 stipend by the end of this year if Chandler gains 500 new students. The stipend will rise to $1,000 if enrollment increases by 1,000.
Teachers will still be eligible to receive an extra $600 for meeting goals outlined in the district’s Journey 2025 strategic plan.
The district has had to temporarily suspend a $400 bonus for employees who participate in a wellness program that rewards teachers for adopting health habits.
Some teachers have objected to the program’s suspension and are hoping CUSD will be able to find the money to resume handing out those bonuses during the next school year.
Erica Marsh, a Ryan Elementary teacher, has already urged the district to restore the wellness bonus for the teachers who depend on the funds for necessary expenses.
The bonus may not amount to much for some teachers, she said, but not having that money may prevent Marsh from being able to afford her family’s medical bills.
“We are willing to work to receive it,” Marsh said. “For my family, $400 means not having to set up a payment plan to pay for my 8-year-old’s echocardiogram.”
Administrators are hoping to have the school board authorize reinstating the wellness bonus at some point later this year.