Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of conversation about the Apache Junction Unified School District. Normally, I would be very happy, because it would mean people are celebrating the great things happening with our students and in our classrooms, but, sadly, this is not the case.
The release of the Auditor General’s Report two weeks ago brought back some of the comments I heard when I first joined the district in 2017; discussions focused on the district’s financial stability. There is a misconception that I would like to rectify. AJUSD is, and has remained, in good financial standing with all financial institutions for decades.
The district’s financial standing is very important to both myself and the Governing Board. We are stewards to the community, which means that our work is held to a high standard. AJUSD has lived within our state’s allocated budget, not only during the good years when capital was fully funded, but also when allocations were cut up to 85% by the state legislature. These reductions in funding amount to over $12.5 million from 2010-2011 through 2019-2020.
The past ten years have been challenging for the district. The district has experienced significant budget cuts, school closures, declining enrollment and the elimination of student programs. Through all this, the district lived within its budget. Many difficult decisions were made during those years, but one thing has remained consistent: our high standards for financial reporting.
AJUSD Financial Awards and Ratings
• Association of School Business Officials’ (ASBO) Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting (COE) for over 20 consecutive years. The COE honors school districts that demonstrate excellence and best practices in financial reporting. FYI: Only 41% of AZ school districts earned this certificate.
• Fitch Rating: AA-
• Standard & Poor’s: A
It is important to note that, even though the district has a long-standing record for its sound practices in financial reporting, the district knew that there were still questions by the community about the district’s finances.
Several concerted steps have been implemented over the past few years to assist in building the community’s trust and confidence in the school district. The Governing Board and I felt it was vital to increase accountability and transparency across the district to help alleviate these concerns. This can be evidenced by the implementation of the following practices over the past two years:
• Completed an external audit of AJUSD’s financial reports by a former business manager from a high performing school district (Fall, 2017)
• Developed an annual AJUSD Budget Book that includes staffing allocation and funding source
• Increased financial reports/updates presentations at Board meetings to strengthen the community’s knowledge of education funding
• Reallocated financial resources to align with the AJUSD Strategic Plan and Scorecard
• Established a structure for a representative group of certified, classified and administrative employees to work collaboratively to develop an employee compensation recommendation that is fair and equitable
• Created an annual Board meeting schedule that includes all staff compensation, including salaries, benefits, stipends, extra duty and performance pay
• Approved the Superintendent Advisory Council recommendation of the use of an Oversight Committee if the Bond and/or Override pass to demonstrate our commitment to the community to use tax monies responsibly. The AJUSD Oversight Committee will provide general oversight duties, including compliance with voter pamphlet disclosure for the voter approved budget increase programs.
These are just a few of the steps AJUSD has taken to ensure that we continue to remain fiscally sound, use best practices in financial budgeting and reporting and provide opportunities to engage stakeholders with the school district. While we recognize there is always room for improvement, and strive to strengthen our processes everyday, we are proud that we have earned recognition for our excellence in financial reporting and remain committed to the high standards set by ourselves and ASBO.
I hope that, by sharing this additional information, we can move forward and focus on the future of the district. I am dedicated to working together to offer the children of this community a safe learning environment that will engage and motivate our students to be productive citizens. I look forward to working together to achieve and celebrate the successes that are in our future.