Proposed funding worries school district, lawmakers

Jerri Norton, Elko County School District's director of financial services, explains the implications of a possible funding formula to the school board of trustees and Superintendent Todd Pehrson on Jan. 22.

ELKO – The Elko County School District could lose as much as $1,600 per student if a new funding formula is approved in the upcoming legislative session.

The possibility for funding loss was presented to the Elko County School Board by financial director Jerri Norton, who told board members there are still too many unanswered questions and unknowns because a formal draft of the bill has not been introduced.

However, the outlook is concerning enough that the board of trustees needed to be informed, said Norton.

“It’s not beneficial to Elko at this point from the numbers they have given us,” said Superintendent Todd Pehrson, “however, there are a million uncertainties out there.”

What is known, Norton said, is that all school districts throughout the state should receive $6,197 per student, plus money for special education students, at-risk students, English learners, gifted and talented students, and for small schools with fewer than 50 students.

Norton said she estimated Elko County could receive $84 million under the new formula with Clark County possibly receiving $2.857 billion. Esmeralda County could receive the lowest amount at $1.3 million.

Based on what data has been revealed by the Nevada Department of Education, “the worst-case scenario” is that as much as $1,600 could be lost if a drafted version of the funding formula is passed in the Legislature, Norton said.

“We have no idea if we would lose $300 per student, or more or less at this time,” she said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know.”

Norton said she has some questions as to why the formula needed to be revised at all. Implemented in the 1960s, the current formula has balanced rural and urban school funding in an “easy to explain” format.

Some stipulations added into the new formula are unclear and do not make sense, Norton said.

“I think other provisions definitely need to be clarified,” Norton said.

If the formula impacts the school district negatively, both Norton and Pehrson said cuts in staffing would have to be made.

“You would have to chop staff because that’s where the majority of your budget goes to is salaries,” Pehrson said.

Another factor that is definitely known is that the formula would affect rural school districts the most, Norton added.

“[It] was indicated that several districts would lose funding,” Norton said. “Upon review of the various worksheets, that may easily be the case.”

A draft of the bill has not been seen before the opening of the legislative session on Feb. 4, but it is expected to be introduced within the first week to 10 days of the session, said Sen. Pete Goicoechea.

Goicoechea said that right now, the impact of the bill is “pure speculation,” but if it is passed, “the implications are that it’s going to be extremely hard on the rural” school districts.

“At this point, we don’t have an answer, but we are prepared to oppose it,” Goicoechea said.

Assemblyman John Ellison said if it does go through, “it could be really devastating” to rural schools.

“The rest of the state could be hammered, mostly in these rural areas because it’s harder to get more teachers,” Ellison said. “They think they can use the same formula for the rural areas as the cities, but it’s not true.”

Ellison said that for now, it is “a waiting game” heading into the legislative session, and anything could happen.

“We don’t know if it is going to pass,” Ellison said. “They think there’s some wiggle room in there.”

Pehrson agreed that waiting is all the school district can do until the bill is introduced.

“There are so many uncertainties,” Pehrson said, “but we’re paying attention, that’s for sure.”

“They think they can use the same formula for the rural areas as the cities, but it’s not true.” — Assemblyman John Ellison

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Courts, K-12 schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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