Pupil count confusion gets sorted at school board meeting Thursday
Board seeks waiver from PARCC assessments
February 26, 2015
Craig — For the average person, the term "pupil count" sounds pretty straightforward: count the number of kids in the classroom, and you have your pupil count.
But when it comes to funding Colorado's public schools, not so.
There are several versions of pupil count and student count used to calculate how much funding a school district should receive, a matter which Moffat County School District Finance Director Tinneal Gerber addressed in detail at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night.
"We need to make sure we know the difference between the funded count and students in the seats," Gerber said.
A recent editorial from the Craig Daily Press editorial board brought to light a confusing misalignment of various pupil and student count numbers that had been presented, sparking questions from community members.
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MCSD faces a potentially significant budget shortfall for the 2015-16 school year, and the Board of Education is considering asking voters to raise taxes in November in the form of a mill levy. The stakes are high, and so is the need for voters to have clarity about what the numbers mean.
"There's gotta be a lot of clarity without any doubt," said board member Tony Peroulis. "If people don't understand what dollars are going where, you're not going to get a lot of buy-in. The more specific you can be with any type of budgeting, the better off we'll be."
Gerber's presentation answered many questions about the numbers for board and audience members, while Leanne Emm, associate commissioner for Public School Finance from the Colorado Department of Education, offered some helpful explanations to the Craig Daily Press about the pupil count numbers that matter.
• 2,175: official MCSD pupil membership for 2014-15 school year, according to CDE
In laymen's terms, membership is the actual head count — the number of butts in a chair or bodies in a room — taken on Oct. 1 of any given school year.
"The district counted 2,176 students on Oct. 1," Gerber said. "Based on an internal audit, we had to adjust that down to 2,175."
Membership data is not due to the state until Nov. 10, giving school districts time to account for changes to the Oct. 1 count for reasons such as student illness, travel or moving in or out of the district. Official membership numbers are not officially published by CDE until early January.
• 1,928: the October FTE count, according to CDE's 2014-15 funding summary for MCSD
FTE stands for full-time equivalent, and is a term used in many industries as well as in education.
"So as an example, kindergarteners are counted as half-time," Emm said in an email. "Therefore even though there may be two heads, or students served, they are 1 FTE since each is counted as a 0.5 FTE."
Preschoolers are also counted as 0.5 FTE, as well as part-time high-schoolers, reducing the butts-in-a-chair membership total to a number that CDE can use to compare apples to apples across school districts.
• 2,144.5: MCSD's funded pupil count for the 2014-15 school year, according to the CDE funding summary
The funded pupil count is the final number that gets multiplied by the per-pupil funding amount — $6,670.43 in the case of MCSD, according to CDE — to get the grand total.
For the 2014-15 school year, MCSD's total program funding equals $14,304,740.56. The funding is comprised of state funds as well as local property taxes and vehicle registration taxes.
The funded pupil count number is the product of a lot of number-crunching, starting with the membership, then calculating FTE, taking a five-year average FTE, adding supplemental factors, and finally arriving at 2,144.5.
School districts may seek additional funding, above and beyond the total program funding determined by the state, through a mill levy override, such as the one approved by Moffat County voters in 1997.
Also discussed at Thursday night's school board work session and meeting:
• The board unanimously passed a resolution to apply for a waiver from PARCC performance-based assessments.
• Gerber revealed that according to updated numbers, the extra cash MCSD was hoping to receive through the governor's budget request has been reduced from $762,000 to approximately $522,000. The district is now projected to lose 53 students next year instead of the originally projected 21 students.
• One of the student count numbers in contention — 2,027 according to MCSD's budget guide — was the estimated pupil count used for budgeting purposes, Gerber explained. The budget was ratified before the school year began and the actual number was known.
• Board President JB Chapman called for the school board to set aside time for extra meetings or a retreat as soon as possible to fully understand the school district's budget and options moving forward.
"There's no one on this board that doesn't want better education and doesn't care for the kids, but we have a fiscal responsibility too, and we've gotta take that seriously," board member Darrell Camilletti said.
• Gerber clarified the difference between two budget scenarios based on moving to a four-day school week. One revealed a savings of $520,000, while the other suggested savings of only $223,000, the main difference being the first would make cuts to teacher contract hours (more expensive), and the second would only reduce hourly staffing (less expensive).