The school district is using student enrollment to help divide $567 million in bond money between charter and non-charter schools. However, some dispute the enrollment numbers used.
Using the funded pupil count number that the district used, charter schools will be awarded roughly $52.5 million to be dispersed evenly among 17 charter school buildings.
Had the October Full-time Enrollment (FTE) number been used — which does not factor in other elements such as a five-year average or full-day kindergarten — charter schools would instead be awarded nearly $55 million. This would result in an average of $145,000 more for each charter.
Hundreds of construction projects will be underway at district schools this summer, funded by the $567 million in bond money approved by voters in November.
The district previously outlined how that money would be divided between schools, drawing attention from some community members when the share for charter schools was worked into the budget. While the district says it has stuck to one plan to determine charter share, several community members say the district changed its mind during the drafting process, switching calculation formulas to give more money to non-charter schools.
“To me, they made an error,” said Lakewood resident Bob Greenawalt, whose children previously attended school in the district. “The calculation they used made it appear there are more students in the district than there actually are. It diluted the charter share.”
The district said it is calculating the bond share for charter schools based on how many students attended each type of school. Based on data from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), district personnel found non-charter schools serve 72,726.8 funded students while charters serve 7,452.
Based on these numbers, the district plans to allocate about 9.29% of the new bond money to charter schools.
However, as three community members protested at a March school board meeting, there’s a dispute about how that allocation was calculated.
Two different enrollment numbers
Greenawalt first started examining the numbers when he learned the district would not allocate a round 10% of the bond money to charter schools, as had been stated in board presentations by chief financial officer Kathleen Askelson leading up to the board’s budget hearing this year.
In the past, it has been understood that early budget presentations contain estimated numbers, Askelson said. As such, she did not mention the number was an estimate during the presentation.
“All our schools knew that, but I think some took the 10% literally when they saw it,” she said. “We’ve gotten a little more thoughtful about saying these are estimates, and I’ve started to do that as an ongoing thing.”
Protesting community members also questioned why the district used funded pupil count to determine the percentages, instead of full-time enrollment (FTE).
FTE expresses the number of funded students in a district. The measure counts students taking more than 360 class hours in one semester as 1 student and students taking between 90 and 360 hours as .5 students, with all other students ineligible for funding, said Jennifer Okes, the CDE’s chief operating officer.
Meanwhile, funded pupil count considers additional factors, including a five-year average of a district’s FTEs, Okes said.
When districts have a drop in enrollment, they may use funded pupil count instead of FTE for funding purposes, she said. This way, district schools do not experience a drastic drop in funding from year to year.
Funded pupil count is also “a valid number” for a district to use when determining charter share, she said.
“If you’re using funded pupil count for both charter and non-charter schools, that’s reasonable,” she said.
However, Greenawalt said he and others like him had expected the district to use the 2019 FTE number to make its decision. He pointed to a resolution passed by the school board on Oct. 4, 2018 which says, “the Board of Education will allocate a percentage of the bond proceeds equal to the percentage of full-time district students enrolled in district-authorized charter schools.”
Should the district have used the 2019 FTE, non-charter students would have made up 69,129.6 out of the 76,581.6 being served by the bond money.
Under this calculation, charter schools would have been awarded 9.73% of the funds instead of 9.29%.
This would result in a net allocation of nearly $55 million to be divided among 17 charter buildings, as opposed to the roughly $52.5 million they will receive.
Greenawalt also questioned a spreadsheet created by the district, which listed 72,726.8 as the October FTE number, instead of 69,129.6.
“I thought that, with a lot of things said by the district to get (ballot measure 5B) passed, they were being purposely deceitful,” he said. “I was not satisfied with some of the explanations.”
Choosing to use funded pupil count
Askelson said the district often refers to funded pupil count as FTE or enrollment. “Enrollment is heads in the room that are getting funding,” she said.
Funded pupil count was also used to calculate bond shares in 2004, and there is no statue mandating how the district must calculate charter share, she said.
“Enrollment is a pretty static number we use,” she said. “Charter school principals were very familiar with the formula, and we got no calls from school principals.”
She added that she and her colleagues met with the principals before deciding how to allocate bond money. Ultimately, district leaders chose to use funded pupil count based on principal’s feedback, she said.
But despite state law, not all agree that funded pupil count should be used for its current purposes, Okes said. For those like Greenawalt, the issue might not be with the districts that use these calculations, but with the state, which has allowed these calculations to be used for bond shares, she said.
“There have been concerns from legislators that we’re funding ‘phantom students,’” she said. “Some districts are being funded for students who aren’t there. I think that’s a valid concern.”
To Greenawalt, the answer lies in recalculating charter share and awarding charters the bond money they would have received under the alternative calculation.
“I’m for transparency,” he said. “Even with this mistake, it’s not a problem for the district to find this money.”
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