In early June, the North Branch Area Public Schools (NBAPS) school board conducted a random sample survey to collect stakeholders’ thoughts on an operating levy to help bridge the gap between woefully inadequate state funding and the reality of providing high-quality educational opportunities for students and families.
Based on the survey’s results, the school board decided it would not be in the best interests of the school district or the community to pursue an operating levy this fall. For those who took the time to respond to the survey, we are very grateful. Thank you!
Instead of an operating levy, the school board talked about the need to educate the community about school funding and why it has been such a challenge for school districts like ours.
Like roughly 40% of school districts in the state (according to Schools for Equity in Education) NBAPS is experiencing declining enrollment. State funding is based on enrollment, so each time a school district loses a student it also loses that student’s funding.
Why is that a problem? Fewer students mean fewer expenses, right?
Frankly, nothing would make me happier than if that question/statement were true. It is not by a long shot. The truth is that expenses for school districts continue to climb each and every year. As a community, you pay the price as more and more tax dollars are dedicated to fixed costs (such as fuel, heat, electricity) and there is less for actual education.
The NBAPS budget shortfall for 2019-20 was $2.3 million. In 2018-19 NBAPS spent $2.6 million supporting unfunded special education mandates from the state. If the state paid for what it demands, no adjustments would have been required.
We want to provide the highest quality services we can for all of our students, but year after year the state puts districts in the position of having to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” which is not fair to any student.
Another way the state has dropped the ball on school funding is that it fails to even keep pace with inflation. Although the raw numbers are higher now, when adjusted for inflation (CPI) school funding is roughly $1,400 behind where it was in the early 1990s (SEE).
The 2% approved by the state for next year and the year after won’t even come close to closing that gap. Additional special education dollars amount to a little over $310,000 over two years for NBAPS, but the district must spend millions over the same time period.
While grateful for the funding received from the governor and legislature, it won’t be nearly enough. A robust job market means competition for quality staff puts more pressure on the dollars we have. Inflation will continue to take more from each dollar we receive, and declining enrollment will mean less of those dollars to start with.
For districts like ours, this problem is reaching critical mass, and until we take a hard look at how we fund schools and make substantive changes, districts like ours and the children we serve will continue to suffer while the state claims it “did something.”
Dr. Deb Henton is superintendent of North Branch Area Public Schools.