Who Is In Charge

School budget prospects look familiar

Colorado school districts may face 2013-14 budget prospects similar to this year’s situation – no cuts in state aid but not enough new funding to cover expected higher costs.

Stacks of cashThat was one of the messages in the quarterly revenue forecasts presented to the Joint Budget Committee by legislative and executive branch economists Thursday.

Both forecasts told a similar story: State revenues were higher than forecast in June, but revenue growth likely will slow, and economic and political uncertainties cloud the state’s prospects.

“The economy is expected to continue to lose momentum until the first half of 2013,” said legislative chief economist Natalie Mullis. “The risk of recession is rising.”

Funding of K-12 schools consumes about 40 percent of the state’s $7.6 billion general fund budget, so revenue forecasts are closely watched for the possible impact on school support.

The 2012 legislature budgeted $5.3 billion in state and local funding for K-12 in the current school year, including a state share of about $3 billion. The total amount kept average per-pupil funding flat at $6,474.24. School spending had been cut in the previous three budget years.

Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, told the committee that in the 2013-14 budget, “We believe we’ll be able to accommodate inflation and enrollment in K-12 in a way the state hasn’t done in recent years.”

Asked after the briefing to elaborate, Sobanet said that doesn’t mean school funding can return to pre-recession conditions.

“The policy goal would be keeping the negative factor unchanged,” he said, explaining how the Hickenlooper administration is approaching the 2012-13 budget, which has to be presented by Nov. 1.

The negative factor is a calculation the legislature uses to reduce K-12 support to the amount needed to balance the overall state budget. Use of the factor reduced this year’s level of school support by about 17 percent from what spending would have been if the full terms of state school finance law and Amendment 23 had been applied. Use of the negative factor in recent years has cut an estimated $1 billion from school funding.

Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, attended the briefing. Asked afterwards about the prospects for 2013-14, she said it will be “maybe a little bit better” than current funding. “I still think the negative factor will grow,” she said, adding, “Nobody’s talking about restoring” funding to earlier levels.

Despite the fact that state funding remained flat for this year, many Colorado school districts had to make cuts and dip into reserves to cover rising costs. Fourteen districts have proposed ballot measures asking voters to approve local tax increases, primarily to cover money lost through past state cuts.

Henry Sobanet
Henry Sobanet, director, Office of State Planning and Budgeting / <em>EdNews</em> file photo

Both Sobanet’s staff and Legislature Council economists found state revenues have come in higher that predicted when the last forecasts were made in June. But both forecasts cautioned that those revenues may be one-time only, driven primarily by revenue from capital gains taxes.

Much of the extra revenue will flow automatically into the State Education Fund, a dedicated account that is used to supplement the school funding that comes from the state’s general fund. Having an education fund of more than $700 million will give lawmakers some flexibility in 2013, but that may be a one-time opportunity, Sobanet indicated.

The next revenue forecasts will be made in late December, setting the budget tone for the legislative session that will convene in January. Updated forecasts made in March are used to finalize the annual state budget, which must be completed before lawmakers adjourn in early May.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”