Schools at bottom of funding formula
School district officials said modifications to the state’s 12-year-old public school funding formula would be welcome, but they’re not counting their dollars yet.
The formula puts eight of Colorado’s 176 public school districts under the state’s minimum funding requirements.
Moffat County School Dist–rict is one.
In fact, only one district in Colorado would qualify for less than Moffat County if the state didn’t kick in to bring them up to the same minimum level.
Although Legislators have discussed re-evaluating the 1994 formula this legislative session, Moffat County School District Finance Director Mike Brinks said he’s heard that before.
“They make noises every once in awhile and say they’re looking at the finance formula, but it doesn’t seem to me that they’re that serious at this point,” he said. “If they determine Moffat County should be higher, then that means the money has to come from someone else, and they’re not willing to take money from anyone else.”
To calculate per pupil funding in 1994, the state took several factors into account, including the cost of living, size of the school and personnel costs.
The calculation of each district’s per pupil funding starts with a statewide base funding amount, which is set annually by the General Assembly.
Each school district is assigned a factor to indicate the cost of living in the district relative to the cost of living in other districts in the state.
The problem, Brinks said, is the state used Moffat County’s cost of living in 1992, a year when the average home sold for $30,000.
Since then, the state hasn’t looked at cost of living changes in individual districts, rather, it has applied a uniform percent increase statewide.
That’s kept Moffat County on the bottom rung of funding, Brinks said.
“For years we used to go to them and encourage them to do a complete cost of living study again,” he said. “But that costs them a lot of money.”
And for the past two years, the state has decreased the cost of living in order to balance an already stretched budget.
Brinks also argues that the cost of living in an area doesn’t necessarily equal the cost of providing educational services.
The per pupil funding formula considers economies of scale — that smaller school districts have some of the same basic costs as larger districts, which is why the Hinsdale School District, with 80 students, receives $12,886 for each student.
Moffat County would receive $5,632.43 per student if the state didn’t set the minimum amount for any school at $5,711.
Brink said one assumption is that in districts where the cost of living is less, their staff members should be paid less.
That’s not a theory local officials agree with.
Superintendent Pete Berg–mann said the district’s top priority is education, “which means taking care of employees.”
Attracting high-quality teach–ers means offering competitive wages, he said.
Funding under the school finance act is based on the number of pupils enrolled in the school district on Oct. 1. Districts facing declining enrollment can use a three-year average.
Before adjourning in 2005, the Legislature appointed a task force to study school finance.
It recommended that the existing school finance system fundamentally change so that funding is based on a combination of adequate resources to meet local, state and national performance goals and is distributed equitably among all Colorado school districts.
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Routt County is working with both Rio Blanco and Moffat counties and municipalities across northwestern Colorado to create an umbrella organization to better coordinate and pursue economic development in the region.