A Lesson In School Funding 101


Casey O'Brien

Superintendent, Payson Unified School District

Schools are funded annually by adopting a formal budget. The amount we can spend for educating students is specifically set by the Legislature each year.

It is derived from the average number of children enrolled in the first 100 days of school from the prior year. It also is a combination of 24 pages of legal sized mathematical calculations that set the amount we receive.

This includes monies for special education, transportation, textbooks and capital needs, federal grants, audit services, a teacher experience index and other factors. We also receive revenue from students that are "tuitioned-in" from neighboring elementary districts, Pine/Strawberry and Tonto Basin. This occurs at the high school level.

Although there are many computations within these formulas -- the majority of our funding is based simply on a prior year student count that is an average enrollment over 100 days.

In last week's front-page article in the Payson Roundup, it was noted that the District is up in enrollment by 136 students. This is not accurate. Several factors, none intentional, I am sure, played into the inaccuracies.

First, our budgets change on a year-to-year basis. Some of the figures quoted were a two-year change.

Second, the high school enrollment numbers were not accurate, based on what I would call an apples/oranges comparison. One year included both our normally funded students and our tuitioned-in students, the next year included only our normally funded students, and the third year again, included both.

Therefore, when it was reported that we have an increase of 122 high school students, we actually have an increase of only six. Finally, there has been a drop of 67 students at the middle school, which was never factored into the reported 136 student increase.

Our bottom line is that at the three elementary schools from last year at this time, to this year, we have decreased in population, overall, by 10 students. At the middle school, we've decreased in population by 67 students and at the high school, we've increased by six students. The budget impact is a net decrease of 71 students in our school district.

Based on the premise that students enrolled equals funding, Payson Unified School District is looking at reduced funding for next year, not the potential increase in funding as was reported in the article.

Although this is not favorable news for the district, we will work to minimize the effect of this loss of revenue on classroom instruction. We have a very student-centered school board, great teachers and excellent administrators. Together we will tackle this challenge and continue to foster excellence in education for our children.

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