By Kelsey Ryan
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Many area school districts got good news from Jefferson City this year in the form of additional state revenue that some of them are putting toward salary increases.
The Joplin, Carthage, Carl Junction, Webb City and Neosho school districts will see increases in state funding for fiscal 2013 over last year’s levels. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education adjusted funding levels for districts across the state based on per-pupil spending and enrollment.
This is the first year that the state department has had authority under the law to adjust the funding rate, said Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner for the department and a former school superintendent in Webb City. There will be some losers in the shift, including the Jasper School District, which will see its state funding decrease by 2.39 percent, or by about $44,000.
Overall, though, many Southwest Missouri school districts are benefiting from the change because the old method for distributing funds gave more weight to districts with higher property levies, and many area school districts have relatively lower levies, Lankford said. Districts across the state with higher levies will not fare as well under the new formula.
“There are a lot of districts getting less,” Lankford said. “More get less than (those) who will get more.”
Gov. Jay Nixon recently signed House Bill 2002, which will invest more than $3 billion in elementary and secondary education for fiscal 2013, which began Sunday.
The final outcome is different from the scenarios foreseen earlier this year, when school officials worried that a sluggish economy would result in even less K-12 funding from the state.
The expected increases in the area range from just under 1 percent for Webb City to nearly 4 percent for Carl Junction.
The Joplin School District will see state funding rise by 3.51 percent, from about $19.4 million in fiscal 2012 to nearly $20.1 million this fiscal year.
‘SPREADING THE PAIN’
The formula state officials use to determine how much school districts receive is in the last year of a seven-year phase-in, although for much of that time it has been underfunded, with state legislators citing loss of tax revenue because of the slow economy.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates the amount the formula was underfunded at $108 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That gap is projected to more than double to $251 million for the year that just started and to rise to $457 million in fiscal 2014.
In order to keep the funding from becoming even more disparate, the state department agreed to a freeze in statewide per-pupil spending at $6,131, the same as last year’s rate, according to Sarah Potter, communications coordinator with the department.
Although it was working with the same amount of money, this year the department sliced the funding pie differently with a goal of achieving a more equitable distribution for students in poorer areas.
State Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, who is on the House Budget Committee, said he has been speaking with area superintendents about school funding options, ranging from fully funding the current formula to coming up with a new plan entirely.
The lawmaker said the state needs “to get it straightened out so that the school districts can have a fairly good estimate of what’s going to happen. All they want is certainty.”
Flanigan said the state constitution requires the Legislature to balance the budget and to fully fund elementary and secondary education.
“We have got ourselves now behind the eight ball of not making that foundation formula work,” he said. “I think the year is coming up where we fish or cut bait on it. We can’t be up at $251 million and have that double — then where are we?”
Blaine Henningsen, Carthage superintendent, said that with the state department “spreading the pain to everybody,” it minimized the harm to districts, as well as any hard feelings that may have arisen under the old plan.
“I think it’s the best overall for everybody, and I appreciate what they’ve done,” he said.
Webb City Superintendent Anthony Rossetti noted that his district is seeing a state funding boost of just under 1 percent, but the new method for distributing money also factors in fall enrollment figures, so there could some adjustments.
He also said the new method is “the fairest that I think anybody can create.”
“We didn’t fare as well as a lot of surrounding school districts, but it’s still better than if some other solution had passed,” Rossetti said. “I’m not displeased at all about choices DESE made in trying to fix disparity in the formula. The bottom line is we are supposedly going to get more than the prior year.”
Several school districts are considering or have already approved salary increases for teachers as a result of the additional funding. Salary increases were approved last week by the Joplin Board of Education.
“This is the first increase we’ve seen in a while, and it helps us on a number of levels with rebuilding our fund balances and the ability to compensate staff for their work,” said Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff. “It provides us some breathing room that we’re appreciative of.”
The Joplin district will increase salaries by a total of about $1.5 million, said Paul Barr, chief financial officer. That breaks down to between $1,000 and $1,600 for teachers, and 20 to 60 cents more per hour for classified staff members. Huff noted that the district cannot use money from the recently passed bond issue to pay for the salary increases.
Joplin has held salaries flat in recent years. Huff said he hopes the increases will allow the district to remain competitive in the job market.
A beginning teacher in the Joplin School District with a bachelor’s degree and one year of experience will make $34,472 next year, according to Joplin’s teacher salary schedule.
The Carthage School Board voted last week to give the staff a 2.8 percent salary increase.
“We’ve been able to pass some of the increase to teachers who have really worked with us to keep expenses down,” Henningsen said.
That’s the hope of the Webb City School District as well.
“We need to keep salaries and benefits competitive,” Rossetti said. “We’ve essentially been operating on the same budget for the last four years.”
District Fiscal 2012 Fiscal 2013 % change
Joplin $19,385,014 $20,066,392 +3.51%
Carthage $17,795,429 $18,260,016 +2.61%
Carl Junction $11,602,404 $12,041,055 +3.78%
Webb City $17,186,052 $17,339,939 +0.89%
Neosho $17,207,250 $17,769,914 +3.27%
Jasper $1,852,632 $1,808,384 -2.39%
NOTE: The figures, provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, are estimated funds from the state foundation formula and do not include local revenue.
The largest percentage increase a district will receive is in the Iron County School District, where state funding will go up 38.38 percent, from $371,652 to $514,310. The largest cut will be taken in the Bismarck School District, where funding will decrease 4.52 percent, from $2,564,965 to $2,448,977.