School Bailout Money Should Be Based On Need

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Editor:

As reported, Gila County is to receive $2.1 million in January 2009 for Gila County School Districts from the Federal Bailout Bill recently passed in Congress. Similar federal funding is expected to be received through 2011.

The question arises as to how should this money be allocated to the school districts.

Superintendent Casey O’Brien of the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) says that it should be allocated based upon student count where upon PUSD would receive 30 percent or over $600,000 of the money. This basis would create a windfall to PUSD and an inequitable allocation to the remaining school districts in the county, all of which are considerably smaller than PUSD. PUSD has a student count of slightly over 2,500 while the remaining (eight) public school districts in the county have a total student count of 5,000 or less.

In its cost structure, PUSD enjoys an economy of scale compared to the other Gila County districts. All districts in the state must comply with the educational and administrative requirements contained in state statutes and administered by the Arizona Department of Education.

They must have a district superintendent and administrative staff, and must provide and manage special education, curriculum and business support functions, i.e., maintenance, transportation, food service and financial and attendance reporting. PUSD, has a far larger student count than other individual Gila County districts to spread this cost over resulting in a lower cost per student. Because of the higher cost per student for these functions, smaller districts have less money out of their maintenance and operation budget to spend in the classroom.

That being said, the bailout money should be spent incrementally over and above a district’s annual maintenance and operations budget, which is determined through formulas found in state statutes. Rather than being disbursed based upon student count and spent at will, the disbursements should be based upon need and accountability.

On a project basis, districts should be required to submit a budget request to the county containing information as to how the money will be spent with a detailed budget. County officials, with the recommendation of the county school superintendent, will prioritize the projects and approve the disbursement of the monies accordingly. At the end of the school year, districts would be required to prepare and submit a completion report to the county outlining where and how the money was spent with related accomplishment(s). These evaluations would become the starting point for the projects subsequent year’s approval.

With this procedure, county officials would perform their fiduciary responsibility on how taxpayers’ money is targeted and spent, and the small districts in the county would have a better opportunity to match the educational opportunities that are available in larger districts, such as PUSD.

Jim Hippel

Citizens Awareness Committee

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