Fewer kids equals less money for Moffat County schools | CraigDailyPress.com

Fewer kids equals less money for Moffat County schools

Collin Smith

— More students means more funding, and the Moffat County School District has lost students each year for the past nine.

Since 1998, total student enrollment has decreased by 446 pupils. This has cost the school district $12.8 million – and $2.9 million in 2007 alone – compared to if enrollment remained the same.

Open enrollment ended Thursday, with elementary school enrollment six students less than the beginning of last school year.

The current numbers are not a good indicator of what the actual student population will be when the school year starts, said Vicki Duncan, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

Student population is a factor in the district’s funding woes, but is only one part of a weak state system, said Mark Rydberg, director of finance for the school district.

For nine years, Moffat County has been one of the least funded school districts in one of the states with the least amount of educational funding. In 2006 it was the least funded county in Colorado on a per pupil basis, ranking 178 out of 178.

“That puts us pretty much at the bottom of the barrel nationally” in terms of available funding, Rydberg said.

The Public School Finance Act of 1994 created a three-part formula for district funding based on cost of living, at-risk students and size.

Moffat County does not receive as much money per pupil as the Hayden School District, which receives nearly $1,800 per student more annually. The rationale is Hayden would need to pay its staff more to attract them to a small population area.

Hayden teaches about 425 students, and Moffat County teaches about 2,223.

“We are a medium-sized school district with a medium-sized at-risk population,” Rydberg said. “What really kills us is the cost-of-living factor.”

By theory, because Craig is cheaper to live in than Steamboat Springs, Craig should be able to pay its teachers less, Rydberg said.

“If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to go out and get the best teachers.”

The Colorado Department of Education assessed each district’s cost of living in 1994 when the finance act passed. Since then, changes to its funding formula have been minimal.

“At the time, Craig was coming out of a pretty bad time, economically,” Rydberg said. “The mines had laid off some people, and the whole area is completely different now.”

Assessing cost of living shouldn’t affect a district’s funding, Rydberg said. School districts in the Yampa Valley pay roughly the same amount for textbooks, and pay exactly the same for utilities because every district contracts with the same utility companies.

Although Moffat County has a relatively high assessed value compared to other counties because of the energy resources here, the school district can only receive so much money per pupil because of the 1994 finance act.

The vast majority of money the county sees from energy companies comes from property taxes, in the form of mill levies, and royalties, which are paid into the county’s general fund.

The school district receives just more than $13 million of its $18 million budget from the county.

The county also receives mineral leasing rights from oil and gas companies, of which the school district gets about 65 percent.

The district recently received its largest amount of money from mineral rights, which was about $400,000, comparatively little against the overall budget.

“To think mineral money is going to bail us out (of need) is wrong,” Rydberg said. “It only helps with our operating budget. There is no money left over for improvements.”

The remaining annual revenue comes from federal grants, and the state by law must make up the remaining difference between the finance act formula total and actual revenue.

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