August 28, 2003

Governor Meets With Local School Officials To Address State Aid

As if a nearly quarter million dollar budget cut was not bad enough, the Scotland County R-I School District got the word from Governor Bob Holden that the financial picture for 2004 is looking considerably worse than this year.

The Missouri Governor presented the bleak message to a gathering of area school superintendents during his stop in Kirksville Thursday, August 21.

"The governor made it very clear that school districts like ours will likely find next year much more difficult financially than this year," stated SCR-I Superintendent LeRoy Huff who attended the meeting.

State funding for education has been a political battleground between the governor and the Republican controlled state legislature.

Holden told the school representatives at the meeting that closing tax loopholes for big business as well as increasing taxes on tobacco and gaming could help schools during the immediate future. He pledged to call upon state legislators to make the necessary changes during the upcoming September special session.

However he conceded that these were just short-term solutions, admitting that the state needs to take a look at the foundation formula that determines state funding for public schools.

The issue has sparked the creation of a special interim committee in the state house and senate to review funding for public education.

"The committee will look at education funding problems, in particular the foundation formula," stated Sen. Charles Shields, R-St. Joseph, the committee chairman. "It is a complex agenda with many implications, and our job is to look at all the options and come up with a prompt and beneficial solution for the issues at hand."

Huff agreed that the state should review the formula in an effort to create equity between the school districts across the state.

The governor pinpointed the equity concern when he compared the cuts made in state funding this year based on the formula.

The disparity is alarming when you compare a school such as Clayton with Scotland County R-I.

Clayton, a St. Louis school, has an enrollment of 2,442 students and draws upon an assessed valuation of $788 million yet only witnessed a total loss in state funding of $1,027, or basically zero percent of its overall budget.

SCR-I on the other hand has just 641 students and just over $37 million in assessed valuation. Despite the fact that Clayton has 20 times as much local tax revenue to draw upon, SCR-I still lost more than $247,000 in state aid, which is more than five percent of its overall budget.

Despite the fact that Clayton spends more than twice the state average per pupil at $13,884 compared to SCR-I, which is below the state average at $6,608 per student, the St. Louis school basically lost no state funding.

Gorin R-III took an even bigger blow, losing 5.9 percent of the district's overall budget due to state aid cuts. The district saw its $2,985,614 budget reduced by more than $40,000.

The bulk of Missouri schools lost between four and six percent of their overall budgets due to state funding cuts.

However, because of the inequity in the funding formula, schools in richer districts, not only saw smaller declines in state funding, but overall lost less than one percent of their overall budget.

The disparity is not limited just to big schools. The Brentwood school district in St. Louis County, has just 932 students. Despite an assessed value of nearly $220 million, the district lost just $2,756 in state aid which did not even put a dent in the $11,107 spent per student.

The joint interim committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting September 2 at 11:00 a.m. at the State Capitol in Jefferson City.

The hearing will be the first of several public meetings held throughout the state to allow parents, educators taxpayers and concerned citizens to be heard.

The first task of the committee is to accurately define adequacy and equity. This will establish the minimum level of money required to provide for the education of a child in the state while determining how the state distributes money from one school district to another to insure it is fair for one child in one region as compared to another child in a different region.

"Many education officials and those concerned about this area have varied opinions about how adequacy and equity should be defined," Shields said. "Our goal is to come back prior to the regular session and have a recommendation for the General Assembly on what definitions and solutions seem viable to resolve the problems."

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