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MailTribune.com
  • Poverty standard hurts Central Point schools

    Because district is seen as more 'middle class' than some in the region, it gets less money per student; new formula may provide more balance
  • Many factors play into school district funding, but Central Point School District officials believe they are getting the short end of the revenue stick.
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  • Many factors play into school district funding, but Central Point School District officials believe they are getting the short end of the revenue stick.
    For nearly a decade, the district has tracked its operating revenue per student — the district's total operating revenue divided by the number of students in school on Oct. 1 — also known as "the butts in seats" count. This calculation shows that the district is receiving less money overall per student than most of the surrounding districts, including Ashland, Eagle Point, Medford, Phoenix-Talent, Klamath Falls, Grants Pass and Three Rivers.
    "We call it 'the revenue disadvantage,' " said Superintendent Samantha Steele.
    During the 2005-06 school year, the district brought in between $152 and $2,197 less per student than the surrounding districts. In 2012-13, district officials figured they would be working with between $1,083 and $2,999 less per student than the surrounding districts. Only Medford trailed Central Point that year, with $8,170 per student compared with Central Point's $8,304 per student.
    Based on Business Manager Spencer Davenport's calculations, the district gets an average of $1,015 less per student per year to work with than neighboring districts. Using the district's average enrollment between 2005 and 2012, he figured the district's total disadvantage over those seven school years was about $33.1 million.
    "Everybody needs more dollars for public education, but we definitely suffer from middle-class syndrome," Steele said.
    Each district's funding rests largely on its poverty level. Last year, 57 percent of Central Point students qualified for free and reduced-price meals, compared with 63 percent of Medford students (this figure doesn't include students enrolled in charter schools), 38 percent of Ashland students, 67 percent of Phoenix-Talent students and 66 percent of Eagle Point students.
    Every district has its own set of challenges and receives funding accordingly, Davenport said.
    Title 1 funds are federal dollars designated for low-income students, and the amount of funding each district receives is determined by the poverty level of the school-age children residing in that area. This money can be used to fund supplemental supports for students struggling academically, said Janet Bubl, an education program specialist with the Oregon Department of Education.
    In 2012-13, the Central Point district received $845,242 in Title 1 funds, while Eagle Point received $1,212,652 and Ashland received $897,535.
    Davenport described these funds as the "icing on the cake." A district, he said, could use them to purchase supplemental software or technology that, although intended for students not meeting academic benchmarks, could benefit all students.
    "I'm not saying those districts don't need the money," he said. "They do. But when teachers, staff or community members ask us, 'Why don't we do this or that?' This is why."
    Title 2A funds are federal funds directed at professional development of teachers. Each district receives a set amount each year. If more funding is available, it is allocated to districts based on how many kids are in the district and the percentage of them living in poverty, explained ODE spokeswoman Crystal Greene.
    Last year, Central Point received $114,999, while Ashland received $151,403 and Eagle Point received $241,008.
    "And we have more teachers than both of those districts," Steele said.
    Overall, the district has fewer dollars to spend and hasn't been able to offer the range of programs seen in many other districts, Steele added.
    Brad Earl, Medford's chief financial officer, said smaller school districts are at a disadvantage as they try to cover fixed costs with less funding.
    "However, there is going to be disparities that occur due to the funding formula and the grants we all get," he said. "That is true. However, we are all bearing costs, some that we can control and some that we can't. It's not all about income. Sometimes it's about managing your costs."
    According to 2012-13 state report cards, Central Point had a 1 percent drop-out rate, whereas the average drop-out rate of similar districts statewide was 3 percent. The district's four-year graduation rate was 74.5 percent, four points higher than the average of similar districts statewide and six points higher than the state average.
    "We've outperformed many districts in the valley on fewer dollars," Steele bragged.
    Earlier this year, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt a new, more equitable method for calculating poverty. The change meant an increase of $380,000 in state funding for Central Point.
    "That was a big woo-hoo!" Davenport said.
    Davenport said the district has not yet calculated the operating revenue per student for 2013-14.
    "Based on the data over a seven-year period, I expect that trend to hold, but I won't know until we roll in the figures," he said.
    Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.
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