Area schools want more money from state

School districts in oil country are hoping that the Legislature will put more money into a fund intended to address the needs of rapidly growing school districts.

During the last two years so many school districts qualified for Rapid Enrollment Grants that the fund ran out of money and qualifying districts got about 40 percent of what they had originally qualified for, said Steve Holen, superintendent at the McKenzie School District No. 1 in Watford City. The Legislature allocated $5 million for the fund during the 2011 session. School districts qualified if their growth in one year exceeded 7 percent and if they had an increase of 25 or more students in any one year. If the amount of the appropriation was insufficient, DPI was directed to prorate the amount of the payment given to the qualifying schools.

Holen said his district has 161 more students enrolled from fall 2012 to fall 2013 and would have been entitled to $640,000 if there had been enough money in the fund. Instead, the Watford City schools received about $288,000. The district took money out of its interim fund to make up the difference and started the year with a $250,000 budget deficit.

Holen said the shortfall in the fund was likely due to more schools qualifying than state legislators had originally anticipated. For instance, West Fargo, a district far from oil country, is among the rapidly growing school districts that qualified.

Stanley, another rapidly growing school district, also qualified but received less than it would have qualified for, said Supt. Kent Hjelmstad, who is hopeful that the Legislature will allocate more funds for the Rapid Enrollment Grants. Stanley’s school district has nearly doubled in size in the past few years. Hjelmstad said the district would definitely notice the loss of revenue if it did not receive a second payment to make up the rest of what had originally been anticipated. Other cuts from the budget would eventually have to be made if the district does not receive funding, he said. Hjelmstad pointed out that it costs an average of $10,000 per year to educate a child in North Dakota.

Some districts that have experienced a lot of growth didn’t qualify under the terms of the growth.

Minot Supt. Mark Vollmer said Minot has never experienced a 7 percent growth rate in a single year but it has experienced continuous growth over the past several years that also has had an impact on enrollment. The district had 4 percent growth last year and has had growth of about 3 percent or more in previous years. Vollmer hopes the district will take into account the impact that extended periods of high growth have on school districts when determining which schools are eligible for the Rapid Enrollment Grants.

Hjelmstad said he would suggest that the Legislature allow schools that have experienced a growth of 25 students or have a growth rate of 7 percent to qualify. That would open the program up to more schools.

Holen said he wouldn’t have any objection to more school districts being eligible for the grant funding provided that there is enough funding to serve all of their needs.

Holen said the governor’s office has been encouraging that the Rapid Enrollment Grants program will be fully funded, but it will still need to go through the legislative process.