Superintendent explains school funding stance

Fagen says state school-finance formula merits a deeper analysis

Posted 3/15/15

Douglas County Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen was one of only four Colorado school leaders who didn't sign a recent statement about K-12 school funding concerns. Fagen doesn't fault the statement, she said, but believes it doesn't go far …

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Superintendent explains school funding stance

Fagen says state school-finance formula merits a deeper analysis

Posted

Douglas County Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen was one of only four Colorado school leaders who didn't sign a recent statement about K-12 school funding concerns. Fagen doesn't fault the statement, she said, but believes it doesn't go far enough.

“My concern is that I don't feel like we are addressing the needs of all students in Colorado with this strategy,” she said. “If we're going to come together and really focus on the school-finance issue, I think we should look at it in a broader sense.”

The Colorado Superintendents' Statement on School Funding was signed last month by 174 of 178 state superintendents. They asked the state to restore funding and resources cut since 2009, and give additional funds to rural districts and those serving impoverished students.

Kevin Larsen, Douglas County School Board president, echoed many of Fagen's thoughts.

“Not signing the letter doesn't mean we don't want education funding to be addressed; quite the contrary,” he said, noting that the Public School Finance Act that provides revenue to the state's school districts was created in 1994. “It's been 21 years; it may very well be time to look at the formula. And if we're going to change the formula, let's have a more comprehensive discussion on what the formula should be.”

In 2014, Fagen was among 170 of Colorado's 178 school superintendents who signed a similar letter urging legislators to reduce the negative factor — a $1 billion education budget cut made during the recession. Lawmakers took a small step toward decreasing the negative factor in 2014, but DCSD is still about $64 million short of pre-negative factor levels.

Some Douglas County parents disagree with Fagen's decision not to sign the statement, and one parent has started a petition urging Fagen to reconsider. Laura McNamara so far has gathered about 300 signatures on the petition. She's aiming for 1,000.

“Our school and several others were holding town-hall meetings about needing repairs in our schools,” she said. “We need money (for that). We raise thousands of dollars for our (elementary) school every year.

“It just caused me to really think about why she did not support the other superintendents of Colorado.”

McNamara's petition says the superintendents' position statement “may not be perfect,” but “is a great step forward and will address the dire needs in all Colorado schools, including those in Douglas County.

“It seems as though (Fagen) is prioritizing her personal ideology over our children and her responsibilities for the financial state of our district,” it continues.

The Douglas County School District has reached out to more than 40 community groups recently about its list of capital improvement needs, estimated at $275 million over the next five years. The average school district building is 19 years old, and 42 percent of the district's 84 facilities are deemed in need of significant capital improvements.

School board members repeatedly have complained that Douglas County is the lowest funded district in the metro area.

While those concerns remain, Fagen and school board president Kevin Larsen said recent efforts to address the state's school financing formula are Band-Aids, not permanent solutions.

“The bottom line for me is that there are many groups of children in Colorado who may not be properly funded in the current finance formula,” Fagen said. “For instance, all of us have talked extensively about the fact special-ed students are dramatically underfunded in Colorado. Yet we continue to perpetuate a finance formula that doesn't address that.

“I just think there's more to do here. We need to restore the negative factor. And we should be reconsidering the school finance act based on real data (to) address the needs of all students of Colorado.”

The Colorado Association of School Executives supports the superintendents' position statement, but CASE executive director Bruce Caughey admits it is not a one-punch solution.

“I would agree this is a look at short-term needs,” he said, adding a look at the long-term needs is “the next conversation”. “But there must be some way to address the immediate needs of school districts, and this is an attempt to come to some kind of consensus about what those needs are.

“Our current formula isn't exactly right. But there's a lot of agreement we're not providing enough funding for schools generally. And that was where the bulk of the school superintendents were coming from (saying), `we can't wait any longer.' ”

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