Lawmakers wonder if some schools getting too much

2013-10-28T18:00:00Z Lawmakers wonder if some schools getting too muchBy NICK SMITH | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. _ Lawmakers are questioning whether it’s appropriate to award oil impact grants to school districts that already have healthy general fund balances.

Questions over the allocations came Monday during an interim Education Funding Committee hearing at the state Capitol.

Department of Public Instruction analyst Jerry Coleman handed out a chart detailing 2012-13 data on each of the state’s 181 school districts. The data, which isn’t final yet, shows 2012-13 ending-fund balances totaling nearly $278.7 million statewide.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said oil impact money could be put to better use than going to districts that already have large balances.

“We’re seeing some of these districts sitting on a pile of money,” Nathe said. “I’m sorry but that’s just wrong.”

He pointed to the $28,000 awarded to the Belfield Public School District in August for security upgrades through the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund, even though the district had an ending fund balance of nearly $1.23 million in 2012-13 , based on Coleman’s data.

“It seems to me they could afford $28,000,” Nathe said.

Nathe made a similar reference to the Alexander Public School District. In August, it was awarded $55,000 for modular homes for new teachers. The district’s 2012-13 ending fund balance was listed at $487,900.

The money was part of a more than $6.8 million grant round for schools with kindergarten through grade 12 Under the legislation for the $240 million fund, K-12 schools are eligible for up to $12.5 million in grants in each year of the two-year budget cycle.

“There’s a lot of needs out there. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Nathe said.

State law says a school district can’t have a carryover of more than 45 percent of its current annual budget plus $20,000.

Nathe asked Coleman if there was an industry standard for an acceptable percentage for ending fund balances.

“The state has never made a recommendation on that,” Coleman said.

He pointed to a chart showing that in 1996, the statewide ending fund balance was just more than $103.5 million, or 19 percent of general fund expenditures.

The $278.7 million in 2013 was 23 percent of general fund expenditures statewide.

Rep. Jerry Kelsh, D-Fullerton, said there are wide differences among districts of all sizes. He said if changes are made, that should be kept in mind.

“I hate to see us put a hard number on the ending fund balances that is too low,” Kelsh said.

Not all districts receiving grants in August had large ending fund balances in relation to what they were asking for.

Killdeer Public School District was awarded $804,190 in August. Its ending fund balance for 2012-13 was $1.45 million.

McKenzie Public School District was awarded nearly $1.8 million; it’s ending fund balance was

$2.15 million.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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