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Documents reveal big spending by Mesa Public Schools

Posted at 4:33 AM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-20 06:56:39-05

MESA, AZ — Even as teachers were canvassing neighborhoods, fighting to pass a budget override in the state’s largest school district, new documents reveal Mesa Public Schools Governing Board members were handing out hefty bonuses and spending record amounts on administration in the district’s front office.

Budget documents and memoranda obtained by ABC15 show the district’s administrative spending soared more than 42 percent from 2018 to 2019, exceeding its own budget by more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

The new revelations about administrative spending come just a day after the governing board voted to put Superintendent Ember Conley on administrative leave, signaling it is parting ways with the district’s leader, who has only been on the job since March of 2018. The board is expected to buy out the remainder of her contract – a cost which is expected to exceed $500,000.

According to audited budget documents, the district spent $2,469,076 on general administration in 2018, a budget item which includes the superintendent’s salary and salaries of her top deputies. In 2019, the district spent $3,526,507 on general administration, an increase of 42.8 percent, and $758,299 more than it budgeted for the year.

At least some of that money likely came from a series of bonuses handed out to top district officials. According to a memorandum dated June 6, the board approved “supplemental compensation” for at least 12 members of the executive staff of $22,500 each. The Superintendent also received an $8,000 tax sheltered annuity. At least ten staff members received a $6,000 tax sheltered annuity. At least four other staff members received a $5,000 “adjustment to base salary.” The bonuses total more than $400,000.

Exactly five months later, Mesa voters approved a 15 percent budget increase, raising property taxes in the district by an average of $5 per month for every $100,000 of home valuation. A similar measure was rejected by voters in 2016.

ABC15 has repeatedly reached out to Mesa school district officials, seeking an explanation for the superintendent’s departure. ABC15 has also reached out to district officials regarding the budget documentation and increases in administrative spending. At the time of publication, we were unable to reach district officials for comment.

The sudden departure of the superintendent came as a shock to teachers, including members of the Mesa Education Association, who have spent months knocking on doors and campaigning for passage of the budget override.

ABC15 was not able to reach Joshua Buckley, the MEA president, for this story, but Monday he told member teachers he was seeking greater input in the search for a new leader in the district.

“As the governing board takes its next steps in determining an interim superintendent and begins the search for a new superintendent for Mesa Public Schools, I will do my part to ensure that educator voices are a part of the process,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.