Smaller school districts find state funding inadequate

Staff writer

A decrease in state funding for education has smaller districts like Peabody-Burns and Marion-Florence struggling to create a balanced budget.

The state has cut back on equalization funding; funding that took excess property tax money from wealthier districts and redistributed it among poorer districts.

“Where larger districts can raise their mill levels, we’re maxed out,” Superintendent Ron Traxson said at last Monday’s board meeting. “Our mill equals substantially less than theirs, so we have to raise more mills to generate the same amount of money.”

Because of this, Traxson said the district will have to make substantial cuts if state funding is decreased again this year.

“State funding per student is about $1,000 under what it should be,” he said.

The state was sued for underfunding in 2005. The lawsuit found that state should be paying $4,492 per student. In 2014 the state only budgeted $3,838 and $3,852 in 2015.

Traxson said if school funding does not increase, major cuts will have to be made.

Lee Leiker, USD 408 superintendent, said the decreases have hurt the district, but not as much as USD 398.

“We have great staff and school supporters that have stepped up and done extra to allow us to stretch our money,” he said.

The district passed a tax increase to offset state funding cuts and declining enrollment. Leiker said the district had a long way to go before maxing out its mill property tax.

By law, districts can’t raise more than 30 percent of their general fund amount for a local option budget. The general fund is determined by enrollment.

“It’s a big challenge but we have been able to find cuts to offset the decrease internally so far,” he said.

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