Gilbert school leaders expected a 300-student drop this year in enrollment.
Instead, the district saw more students in classrooms than last year.
Gilbert Unified School District Superintendent Dave Allison said the district has 180 more students today than it did in February. Well over 38,000 students are enrolled in the district, Allison said.
Last spring, district administration raised a flag of warning as it planned its budget that the district could see its first decline in enrollment ever. It was a surprise that didn’t come about.
“Why enrollment went up, there could be any reasons,” Allison said.
Gilbert’s neighboring school district — Mesa Unified — had a similar experience this year. The district expected about 2,000 fewer students. Instead, enrollment dipped by a just few hundred. Higley Unified School District also saw a bigger jump in students than it expected.
The Gilbert Unified School District governing board approved a salary increase for all employees last week, partly based on the enrollment change. Each student that comes into the district brings state education dollars. More students means additional funds.
Employees in Gilbert had not seen an increase in three years, Allison said. In fact, since employees have been seeing mandatory contribution increases to the state retirement system, they’ve had less take-home pay.
All employees will receive a 1 percent increase this year, split into two parts: a 0.5 percent increase distributed as a lump sum and a .5 percent increase on the salary schedule. Certified staff — mostly teachers — who have been going to school to further their own educations will also see a bump in pay.
The district is spending $2.2 million on the salary increases, though it’s seen savings well above that.
Some of the funds come from additional enrollment, but most come from carry-over from last year ($1 million), an increase in state sales tax revenue approved under Prop. 301 ($800,000), energy conservation efforts (about $800,000) and unspent capital funds from the last few years ($2 million), Allison said.
“We’re just really excited that our budgets would allow us to do that,” said board member E.J. Anderson. “It’s been a long haul and the teachers have been there for students.”
The district didn’t allocate all the funds to the increase because of the uncertain future of the economy and education spending. Plus, a three-year, voter-approved sales tax increase will be coming to an end.
“I want to take a conservative approach. I don’t want to short-change our schools. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune