Tuesday, June 27, 2000

School formula questioned

Superintendent concerned

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        FORT THOMAS — The man who leads the Fort Thomas school district thinks Kentucky's school funding formula needs to be re-evaluated.

        “A legislative change will have to be required,” Superintendent Larry Stinson said during Monday's school board meeting. “Someone will have to do an independent analysis. That would be a first step as I see it.”

        Mr. Stinson is concerned because Faurest Coogle, a representative of the Kentucky Association School Boards office in Frankfort, told the Fort Thomas school board they got a little more than $1,900 per pupil under the state funding formula for the 1998-99, the most recent year for which figures were available. Fort Thomas teachers and administrators say that is not enough to fund all its programs.

        Fort Thomas spends a little more than $4,500 per pupil. The rest of the money comes from property and utility taxes, but Mr. Coogle said the $1,900 state contribution is based on property tax assessment alone.

        “Wealth of a district could be defined as the ability of a district to generate revenue,” Mr. Coogle said. “The more revenue taxes generate, the wealthier the dis trict.”

        Monday's discussion was part of a continuing battle over the Kentucky Education Reform Act, or KERA. The 10-year-old law is the response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that declared Kentucky's education system unconstitutional in curriculum, governance and finance.

        According to KERA, Fort Thomas' property tax raised about $1,050 per pupil in 1998-99.

        Austin Raabe, a chemistry teacher at Highlands High School, said the district is still hurting. He said three teachers had to be laid off and an advanced placement chemistry class was cut.

        “The reason we're suffering is because we're wealthy and few,” Mr. Raabe said. “And the rest of the state is happy as can be.”

        KERA is seen as a model nationwide partly because it narrowed the gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest districts. In 1989-90, the richest schools spent 36 percent more than the poorest; by 1997-98, the difference dropped to 10 percent.

        But Linda Sheffield, a math education teacher at Northern Kentucky University who has two grandchildren in Fort Thomas schools, doesn't see a lot of hope. She said Jefferson County, the state's largest district, would probably fight any re-evaluation because it receives the largest amount of state money.

        “I think Fort Thomas loses out on the state funding,” Ms. Sheffield said. “I don't see any strong hope here.”


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