Chickasaw City Councilman Adam Bourne, who is running for a contested seat on the State School Board, believes a change to a small line item in this year’s education budget is taking money away from schools in Southwest Alabama.
In a prepared statement, Bourne accused Montgomery County legislators of “slipping in language to the education appropriations bill that” made it possible for a new school system in the Pike Road community to benefit from from a substantial amount of funds used to pay for “current units.”
Because education budgets are built on student enrollment figures from the previous year, funding for “current units” has for some time provided schools systems with funding to pay for additional teachers when student growth increases to the point it requires additional “teaching units.”
Bourne and others said the funds have been used for since the legislature created the a state Education Foundation Program in 1995. Recently, areas like Baldwin County that have seen sustained growth have used those funds to hire additional teachers if they’re needed after the system has already received state funding
However, in 2015, a few extras lines in the legislation extended those funds to “start-up public charter schools and start-up public school systems in the first year of operation.”
“Because school system funding lags a year behind on how money is allocated, there is an appropriation called ‘current units’ that is supposed to be used to help faster-growing systems keep up with their needs,” Bourne said. “In the past, these monies were split equitably. However, this year someone slipped wording into the bill saying that new city school systems would be fully funded.”
Because charter programs won’t allowed until 2016, the only system that benefited from the additional funds this year was the newly-created Pike Road School District on the outskirts of Montgomery.
Not only were they included, but language specifically says the first-year systems would be funded at the “full amount of the average foundation program cost per unit” — giving them precedence over other growing systems that split the remaining funds.
In the FY 2016 Current Unit Allocations, $9.6 million was up for grabs between the 48 systems that have seen increased student enrollment. In this area, that included Baldwin County Schools and the city systems in Satsuma, Saraland and Chickasaw.
Baldwin County received $468,088, which more than many other systems. Dale County Schools received the second largest allocation at $656,816. Yet, in its first year of operation, Pike Road netted $2,372,215.
With a starting enrollment of just over 1,000 students, Bourne said by his math that equates to more than $2,000 per student. In contrast, he said the seven school systems in the first district received an average of $21.65 for each of the 42,397 students represented.
“This is a travesty taking funding from kids all over south Alabama, while fully funding a school system in Montgomery County that serves mostly the children of lobbyists, political consultants and senior state officials,” said Bourne. “Someone needs to make this right.”
John Wilson, the Chief Financial Officer for Baldwin County Schools, said the additional allocation to Pike Road pulls from a foundation program that was already underfunded and has been since the recession of 2008.
Wilson said a fully-funded teacher unit is currently around $84,000, which includes salary, insurance and other benefits. That’s the level of funding Pike Road received for each of its current units, but Wilson said the rest of the school systems had each of their respective units funded at only $33,944 per teacher.
According to Wilson, less funding for additional units means less teachers and ultimately larger class sizes.
“It’s basically hurts every other school system in the state to fully fund these type of appropriations, and they’re coming out of line item that was never meant to be used for that purpose,” Wilson said. “(Baldwin County Schools) are growing every single year, and it’s a continual burden to try and find the local funding for what the state doesn’t give you for student enrollment growth.”
Bourne is currently vying for seat on the state board of education against Matthew Brown, who is seeking his first election to the body after being appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley in July.
Bourne said he hopes to do something to address the issue over current unit allocations before next year, when new charter programs will likely pull even more funding from the program.
He also said this issue particularly “hit home” with him because of his involvement with starting the city run school system in Chickasaw, which broke away from the Mobile County Public School System in 2012.
“I was very involved in starting the new Chickasaw school system several years ago, and no one ever gave us a sweet deal like this,” Bourne wrote. “The Chickasaw system has 100 students less than Pike Road and while they are getting $2.3 million this year, we’re getting $135,776.”
Lagniappe sought input from the Alabama State Department of Education on this report, but so far a response has not been received.
Updated at 11:30 a.m., Nov. 25, to correct a statement incorrectly attributed to Matthew Brown. The statement should have read “Bourne said he hopes to do something to address the issue over current unit allocations before next year, when new charter programs will likely pull even more funding from the program.”
List of total 2016 allocations
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