Seaford School District is facing financial challenges

By Mike McClure

The Seaford School Board was given a presentation Monday on some of the financial challenges the district will see in future fiscal years. The focus of the discussion was on the state equalization formula which is supposed to help poorer school districts like Seaford provide the same resources to its students that districts that generate more money currently have. “Financial Challenges in FY 03 and FY 04 and Beyond” was presented by Director of Administrative Services Lynn Lester and board member Donna Zakrewsky. The board listened to the presentation and provided feedback on how to better communicate the district’s situation to community members, parents, and legislators. The board plans to hold information sessions with Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, City of Seaford, School Leadership Teams, Legislators and other groups to improve understanding of the disparities in the state’s current system of funding. “We’re trying to gain interest and we’re trying to educate,” said Zakrewsky. Last year the Seaford School District received $23 million in state funding (from 44 sources); $2.4 million in federal grants, which are program specific; and $9 million in local funds for a total revenue of $48.4 million. The District had $9.8 million in discretionary funds, which was 20 percent of its total income. The fluctuation of student enrollment determines whether staff will be added or reduced and affects whether the district gains or loses revenue. Board president Bill Parmelee and board member Dave Speicher told Lester she should emphasize that the Board of Education can’t do what it wants with the $9.8 million in discretionary funds because of contractual obligations. “On a short term basis, we don’t have discretion over $10 million by a long shot,” Parmelee said. The discretionary funds, which are funds over which Board has decision making authority, are dependent on real estate tax revenues as well as State funding support ( Division III-Equalization funding). According to Lester, the Division III Equalization program was designed to help poorer districts because property wealth is not equally distributed throughout the state. A district’s allocation is based on real estate property values and assessment for the district and the effort the district makes in terms of raising local tax revenues. But Lester says that not all taxes are equal. “Despite some real positive things that have happened with education, we have a situation where not all taxes are equal,” said Lester. Lester presented a graphic that showed that Seaford’s revenue per pupil (last fiscal year) was $8,056 with the state average at $9,088. The expenditures per pupil were at $7,790 in Seaford and the state average was $8,809. Seaford’s total (revenue minus expenditures) came out to $86 per pupil, which is around the amount the state requires by law to carryover to the next fiscal year. “It’s not a rosy picture that we’re looking at going into the future,” Zakrewsky said. Lester reported that the state budget deficit is expected to increase in the next fiscal year. The state had asked school district’s to give money back from the current budget before an unexpected revenue caused Governor Minner to rescind her request. The board’s legislative goal is to “provide equal financial resources for all Delaware students so that all students have a fair chance to meet or exceed the State’s Curriculum Standards.” “Basically what we’re asking for is more money,” said board member Jim Van Vleck. “As a legislator, how can I justify more money when there are jobs being lost in this economy?” “I guess what we’re asking for is that students at Seaford and Laurel and Woodbridge have a fair amount of resources to meet the same set of standards that students at Sussex Tech and Polytech have to meet,” Lester responded. Lester said she’d like to see the district have more flexibility in the use of its discretionary funds. The chart Lester showed during the presentation also indicated that both Polytech ($14,834 in revenues and $11,404 in expenditures) and Sussex Tech ($14,662 in revenues and $11,726 in expenditures) had around a $3,000 surplus per pupil.

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