December 19, 2012

State shortchanges school in rapid enrollment funds

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

At a time when McKenzie County Public School District is experiencing the most rapid student enrollment in the district’s history and struggling to maintain a budget, the last thing that it needs to have happen is for some of its revenue stream to be short-circuited.
But, according to Steve Holen, superintendent of McKenzie County Public School District No. 1, that is just the situation that the district is  now facing as the state of North Dakota does not have necessary money to adequately meet the needs of the state’s school districts which qualified for Rapid Enrollment Grants.
During Monday night’s meeting of the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1’s regular meeting, Holen informed the board members that the district will only be receiving $288,000 of the $640,000 it was to have received in Rapid Enrollment Funds.
And, according to Holen, that loss of $352,000 in state money means that the school district’s proposed deficit budget is going to swell from $200,000 to nearly $600,000. Or at least it will unless the state law makers put more money into the fund during the upcoming legislative session.
“The fund that provides for the Rapid Enrollment Grants to the school districts didn’t have enough money in it to pay the districts that met the requirements,” stated Holen.
While Holen noted that the law that created the Rapid Enrollment Funds was well intended, legislators failed to realize that school districts outside the oil impact area could also qualify for the program, which was funded through oil impact funds.
“The bill was intended to help meet the growing enrollment in the oil-impacted school districts,” stated Holen. “What was not anticipated was that school districts like West Fargo and Hillsboro would also meet the rapid enrollment criteria and thus be eligible to participate in the grant program.”
During the past year, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 increased enrollment of 159 students made it eligible to receive $640,000 in Rapid Enrollment Funds.
But, according to Holen, with the West Fargo school district’s enrollment increase of 575 students, that school district also became eligible for $2.3 million from the same fund.
“When you take into account that the fund only had a total of $2.5 million available, the problem becomes pretty clear,” states Holen. “The only solution that the state had was to reduce the amount of money each of the school districts received.”
The solution as Holen sees it is for the legislature to revisit the law and either fund it directly out of state funds or to change the law so that the fund is only available to oil-impacted school districts.
“The use of oil impact funds to provide the money for the rapid enrollment grant program was wrong if that program could be used by any school statewide,” states Holen. “The deficit that we are now facing has left us in a very difficult situation. As all of our other sources of revenue are capped, we don’t have any option but to increase the amount we are going to deficit spend.”
In other business, the school board also accepted the early retirement resignations from six teachers with a combined 190 years of teaching experience in the school district. Those teachers taking early retirement are Sue Wold, Mark Jokela, Kaylene Jepson, Celeste Berg, Judy Rolfson and Janet Johnsrud.
The board also accepted the resignation of Kari Kingsolver as the elementary school guidance counselor.