19 Jul Some School Districts Get More Money for Students (IA)

July 19, 2010

By: David Heitz
Source: The Quad-City Times

The Davenport Community School Distr ict may fight a state practice of giving some school districts more per student in aid than the others, leaders say.

About half of Iowa school districts for the 2010-11 fiscal year will receive $5,883 per student, according to the Iowa Department of Education. That is the amount Davenport and North Scott will get.

But the other districts, like Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley, will receive up to 5 percent more. Bettendorf will get $5,957 per pupil; Pleasant Valley’s allotment is $6,016. Some districts will receive as much as $6,058, $175 more per pupil than the districts with the minimum allotment.

The difference lies in state funding formulas. For large districts like Davenport, which has 16,075 students, the disparity adds up to big money. If Davenport received Bettendorf’s allotment, it would receive an extra $1,189,550. If it received what Pleasant Valley gets, the total would be $2,137,975. If it received the maximum amount, it would be an extra $2,813,125.

Patt Zamora, Davenport school board president, said she became angry recently when, at a conference, she learned that not all school districts in the state of Iowa receive the same amount.

The district has retained a lawyer in regard to the matter, Zamora said, but declined to provide details. Superintendent Julio Almanza said the district is “exploring our options” when it comes to issues of inequity, but declined to discuss strategy.

“The money is supposed to be coming back evenly,” Zamora said.

“We’re supposed to all be getting the same amount because all of our taxes are going in there. I don’t want the other districts to get less; I just want us to get more.”

Until th e middle 1960s, school districts were funded entirely with property taxes. Property-tax rich areas, such as Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley, spent more per student, Almanza said.

Areas without a lot of property tax revenue spent less per student, he said.

Lisa Oakley, school finance director with the Iowa Department of Management, said per-pupil funding allotments were established in the early 1990s “based on historical spending.” Elaine Watkins Miller, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education, said the funding formula has been the same for about 20 years and she is not aware of other districts expressing concerns about it.

However, Joe Heintz, business manager for North Scott, said officials from that district approached the state’s School Board Budget Review Committee several years ago expressing their dissatisfaction with the inequity. Committee members told them their concerns were a legislative issue, Heintz said. “They said they could not be a relief valve for us on this issue.”

The school board then wanted to make the issue a legislative priority, but it did not make the Iowa Association of School Boards’ cut for its list of items to lobby on. “Obviously, that’s because this would upset about 50 percent of the school districts,” Heintz said. “It could take money away for some or give others a big chunk, and it’s obviously a budgetary issue.”

Larry Sigel, president of Iowa School Finance Information Services in Ankeny, said Iowa is one of few states that has not experienced any significant financial litigation when it comes to school funding. “Iowa has been a trendsetter nationwide, but (the school funding system) is not perfect. It has warts on it that need to be addressed from an equity standpoint.”

In the meantime, Davenport could use an extra million dollars or more per year, Almanza said. For the upcoming school year, the district made about $3.4 million in cuts and used $3 million in reserves to balance its budget.

“There are a lot of things we would not have had to do and could have in fact maintained if we had more funding,” Almanza said. “In the future, we don’t want to have to make the kind of difficult cuts that other districts have had to do.”

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