School board to re-visit funding formula
During a recent work session, the Haywood County Board of Education sat down with Haywood County Commission Chairman Mark Swanger and Commissioner Bill Upton to discuss a funding formula that has been in place since 2003.
Haywood became one of the first counties in the state to determine its school system allocation according to a funding formula. The formula uses a five-year average based on the number of students and is adjusted based on actual student numbers shortly after the school year begins. The county appropriation amount also includes the taxes on alcohol collected locally.
The topic came up for discussion after the school board presented its budget requests to the commissioners last month.
Some school board members had questions about the formula because it was established when only three of the current school board members, Walt Leatherwood, Chuck Francis and Jimmy Rogers, were involved with the decision-making process.
“I think at the budget presentation it was obvious there was a lack of comfort there about the funding formula and how it came to be,” Swanger said during the work session.
The formula was established when Swanger and Commissioners Kirk Kirkpatrick and Kevin Ensley formed a committee and researched other states with funding formulas in place.
“We put together something we thought would stand the test of time,” Swanger said. “We thought there wouldn’t be any of this peaks and valleys — we thought it would be a very steady formula that would offer growth over time.”
According to the formula, the county’s 2014-15 appropriation to the school system would increase by $280,318 or 1.68 percent in total funding and 2.33 percent per pupil allocation over the current year revised amount. The school system requested $1.1 million from the county, a 6.87 percent increase.
Swanger said another reason the formula was adopted was to prevent disputes about school budget line items.
“It was just a line item fight every year they’d go up there,” Swanger said about previous budget presentations. “There would be meetings after meetings. It was my view that the school board should be the one making those decisions, so we wanted to do away with this line item nonsense.”
“The formula protects us during hard times,” Upton added. “Commissioners will change and you don’t want a group to come in and just do away with this formula and say, ‘We’ll give them we want to give them.’”
Swanger said the school board could use its county appropriated funds to pay for a supplement increase, adding that the funds were mostly unrestricted.
“We don’t want to have a funding formula plus, where you say, ‘We have other needs,’” Swanger said. “We all understand that there are other needs, there’s no question about it. But as a board, you have the ability and power to establish your own priorities and appropriate that money as you see fit.”
For the past nine years, the school board has presented its budget to the commissioners while requesting an increase and has never received the amount requested. This year, the school requested a 6.87 percent increase, and the year before the school requested a percentage increase of 2.457.
Superintendent Anne Garrett asked Swanger whether the school board should continue to presents its requests.
“If you look back at what you’ve received, that ought to be the clue,” Swanger responded. “You’ve received what the funding formula said every year to a penny. That was our end of the bargain.”
Swanger still encouraged the board to communicate with the commissioners, whether it be during a budget presentation or in another setting.
“It’s good for citizens to see that the two largest governing boards in the county with the two largest budgets in the county are working together to the extent possible,” Swanger said.
Swanger suggested putting the formula on the agenda to discuss whether the board wanted continue with the formula.
“The best thing that ever happened to me with education is not having to go to war every time a budget battle came up and getting everybody in the county to put pressure on the commissioners,” Swanger said.
Board Member Jim Harley Francis said he thought it was time to re-visit the formula to see if an increase was necessary to help offset some mandated costs that are arising from the state.
“I do think at some point in time it might be feasible to look at something like that and see if it’s something we can do,” Francis said.
“We’ll be happy to talk about it, but understand money is tight,” Swanger responded.