One of the most challenging topics to communicate about in public education is finance. The constant debates that are a necessary part of our democratic system of government create many misperceptions about the numbers. In addition, there are so many different revenue streams and variables to consider in each stream that it’s a complicated topic to understand in the first place! As a community we do need to understand it at a basic level however to engage in meaningful conversations about the future of our district and how to align our resources. Through the input we’ve asked for regarding our strategic plan, we’ve heard about high expectations and preparing our students for the workplace of tomorrow. We are now wading into some rigorous conversations about how to align our resources to deliver on those expected outcomes.
Because a good deal of the feedback, requests, and wants of our students, staff and public come from seeing something happening in another school district, it’s also healthy to look at how we compare in funding. It is obviously reasonable to expect that differences in funding result in differences in programming, services, and district operations. So how do we compare? The general fund revenue that our district received in 2012-13 to fund operational expenses (this does not include revenue for construction) was $7,094/ADM. That number is 318th out of 335 school districts in our state. In other words, Pequot Lakes Schools received less funding per student than nearly 95% of the districts in our state in 2012-13. The comparative numbers will show an even larger gap in the next couple of years. Legislation was passed in 2013 and in 2014 that allows school boards to levy local communities for up to $724 per student to cover operational expenses, and nearly every district in the state has at least partially taken advantage of that new authority. The handful of districts receiving less revenue per student than our district in 2012-13 will begin receiving more revenue per student in 2014-15.
Many school districts receive significantly more revenue per student due to the demographics of the district. A district with high poverty receives more Title I and compensatory funding and a district with a high percentage of special education students receives more special education funding. All of this is very appropriate and equitable. The real inequities in funding are created almost entirely by local levies that are not tied to a specific state formula. Some districts levy well over $1,600 per student for district operations while our district maintains a $1 per student levy. We are certainly proud to deliver solid education programs with less revenue than the rest of the state, yet the input we’ve received for our strategic plan raises some questions to consider. The input reveals a strong desire to shift our high school to a seven-period day so students can access more STEM and career oriented course work. It also includes some voicing the need to offer more supports for students who are struggling and continued requests to provide strong arts and athletic opportunities for students. We now need to wrestle with how to align our resources to implement these key strategic directions.
The purpose of sharing all of this comparative information is to cultivate honest, informed, and respectful discussion about how to best align our resources to the input we’ve received for our 2020 strategic plan. Without question, our district team stands ready and committed to delivering on the high expectations of our community. We look forward to great years ahead making our district 2020 Vision come to life in the lives of each student that walks through our doors!