With two new board members elected in September and another member who has been in his seat less than a year, Booneville Schools superintendent John Parrish made the November meeting of the Booneville School Board about money.
Tuesday’s meeting was actually the second for Todd Tatum, who ran unopposed in September to replace Todd Preston, but the first Tyson Washburn, who won a race to replace Stacey McCollough was able to attend. Robert Haynes has been on the board since being appointed to fill a vacancy created when Bill Oliver left the board.
In the meeting that fell, somewhat fittingly, on the night of the General Election, Parrish invited former superintendent turned education advocate Harvie Nichols to explain how the state legislature expects per student funding to be expended by districts and gave an additional funding overview himself.
“What I do is work for the educational co-ops in the state and I spend a lot of time in Little Rock trying to keep up with what’s going on in terms of the Legislature and education and what’s happening and provide information back to (superintendents),” said Nichols. “I attend all the meetings of the education committee during the legislative session and by that night every superintendent in the state has an opportunity to read an email to tell them what happened that day.”
In addition to telling board members it appears school funding will be increased by 1.01 percent in next year’s legislative session, resulting from two-day adequacy funding report sessions over an 18-month period.
“(Reports on) where school districts receive their funding, where school districts spend their money and try to make some determination about, are we providing adequate services to all the schools, do we need to do something different, do we need to get more money,” said Nichols.
Funding for the current school year is $6646 per student which will climb to $6713 for this fiscal year of July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 – and $6781 for the following, ’18 fiscal year.
Nichols provided data showing a 17.4 percent increase, or about 1.75 percent per year, in the student funding matrix over the last decade, but says that can be misinterpreted.
“A lot of years we got more than 2 percent but last session we got nine-tenths percent,” said Nichols. “The recommendation for this session is 1.01 percent, so those averages are going to continue to decline.
“I’m not going to get into politics but the way it is, Republicans want a tax cut so they are going to restrict the amount of money, or try to, the amount of money they put in education,” said Nichols. “The other side of that coin is Republicans let school districts run their district a lot more than what I’ve seen the last 20 years, so you’re going to have a lot more flexibility than you’ve had before. So that’s the trade off.
The 1.01 percent increase is based upon a Senate recommendation our of the adequacy study, but the House committee has arrived at no consensus and doesn’t plan to meet again until Nov. 22, which will be after Gov. Asa Hutchinson, present his budget proposal, set for yesterday.
Consequently, Nichols advised they pay close attention to at least four things.
“Tax cuts. The governor wants to cut $50 million; Senator Hester from up around Bentonville wants to cut $100 million,” said Nichols. “Through the first three months of the (fiscal) year the state was $32 million below what it took to fund everything this year. If that trend were to continue you’re looking at a $128 million shortfall by June 30. Then if you try to put $50 or $100 million on top of that, you’re talking about some major, major cuts.
“What we’re seeing in Little Rock is kind of a political battle. What I’m seeing is some Republican membership is moving away on some of this. They’re saying ‘if you’re going to cut taxes we want you to tell us which programs you’re going to cut. Of course the Democrats don’t want to cut taxes to it’s that group in the middle, which way will they go?”
Also worth noting, Nichols said, is that sales tax projections continue to perform below forecast, though he doesn’t expect that to impact the funding suggestion.
Desegregation money is also worth watching, Nichols said, because a settlement reached between the state and the Little Rock, Pulaski County and North Little Rock school districts will free up $70 million per year.
“The question is what are they going to do with it. Current law says that $70 million will be used to take the sales tax off groceries,” said Nichols. “The question is are they going to do that or use that $70 million to cut income tax.”
Nichols also suggested watching the highway department.
“Highways, in 2015, for the first time ever got into general revenue. Highways have always been supported by federal fuel tax,” said Nichols. “They are, we’re told, staying home and not pursuing general revenue in this session. That’s good there’s not much general revenue to be had.”
Finally, he said, a ballot issue being approved as he spoke, was the ability to provide fast action incentives to companies to locate or re-locate into the state.
“How much money does the Legislature put into that fund, and where does it come from,” said Nichols.
Parrish, during the financial report, also said “I feel good where we are financially, we just need to keep up with our enrollment – we’re still in a trend of people leaving this community – and we need to make sure we absorb (positions) when necessary.”