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Articles: Budget

The median revenues per pupil for public schools were $12,054 in fiscal year 2011, while the expenditures per student were $10,326, says a report on K12 finances from the National Center for Education Statistics.

School districts reported revenues of just over $607 billion in fiscal year 2011, with about 43 percent of the money ($264.6 billion) coming from local governments and 44 percent ($267.8 billion) provided by states. The federal government added just under $75 billion (12.3 percent).

North Carolina, a state once seen at the forefront of progressive education policy, has become a battleground where reformers and teachers’ advocates are clashing over a wide-ranging new voucher program and the elimination of tenure-based pay.

Test scores improved and teacher salaries hovered at the national average under former Gov. Jim Hunt’s second term, from 1993-2001. Now, teacher pay in North Carolina is 46th in the nation and the number of schools meeting federal performance measures is consistently low, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

School districts working to close budget gaps are increasingly requiring parents to pay fees for their children’s textbooks, lab materials, computers, and after-school activities.

It’s a regrettable but widespread trend, says Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of advocacy, policy and communications at the School Superintendents Association. “The recession lasted longer and cut deeper than anyone thought it would,” Hunter says. “Districts try to charge as little as possible, because it’s not popular. It’s a last resort.”

Jack Martin took the helm of Detroit Public Schools in July as the district’s new emergency manager, with goals of getting the academically and financially troubled district back on track. Three days after his appointment, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

It is the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, with roots in the decline of the auto industry and racial tensions that drove residents out to the suburbs.

Patrick Sweeney spoke at last spring’sTannersville’s Memorial Day Observance, where community and American Legion members gathered. Photo credit: Bob Mazon

Patrick Darfler Sweeney, superintendent of Hunter-Tannersville Central School District nestled in the Catskill Mountains just a couple of hours north of New York City, took the bull by the horns. While nearly half the district’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch, Sweeney was tired of seeing budget cuts that interfered with delivering an exceptional student experience. In February, he developed a bold master consolidation plan, presenting it to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and other government and non-governmental organizations.

District IT leaders are prioritizing BYOD, assessment readiness, and broadband access for their schools, despite that 80 percent predict flat or declining IT budgets for the upcoming year, according to the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) first-of-its-kind National IT Leadership Survey.

Budget cuts may have a large impact on federally funded education programs.

In 2010, Attila J. Weninger was 61 and ready to retire. But he received a phone call. A recruitment firm hired by the Stevens Point (Wis.) Area Public School District called on Weninger to help the troubled district, which faced budget problems, vacancies in top cabinet positions, and two previously failed referendums.

On Election Day, California voters passed Proposition 30, a temporary tax increase that will prevent a nearly $6 billion cut to the state’s public schools. Backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the proposition is the first general tax increase passed in the state in two decades. It will increase sales taxes by a quarter of a cent for four years on the state’s base rate of 7.25 percent, and income taxes for those earning more than $250,000 for seven years.

It’s a common situation: A school district in desperate need of additions or renovations and technology upgrades borrows money from investors, to be paid back with interest. But for the Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, Calif., there is a twist: They don’t need to make any payments on the $105 million they borrowed in 2011 until 2033, so the district’s debt will continue to grow as interest on the loan amasses. In the end, taxpayers will be charged $877 million in interest alone.

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra is biting his nails. “It does keep me up at night and usually, nothing does,” says Tangorra, who leads the 1,700-student Ilion Central School District in upstate New York, not far from Utica. “It’s becoming a problem.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie imposed salary caps on superintendents causing many stellar district leaders to seek work outside the state.

Roy Montesano had a distinguished career in New Jersey, where he had been a middle school science teacher and principal, a director of curriculum and technology, and for the past 12 years, a superintendent in the Westwood and Ramsey school districts. Montesano was the 2012 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year. In the 2012-2013 school year, he will lead the Hastings-on-Hudson (N.Y.) Union Free School District.

DA: Why did you retire after this past school year and accept a superintendent job in New York?

With no end in sight for the budget crisis facing districts, the Texas State Board of Education approved a plan in July that would allow 3.3 percent of the state’s Permanent School Fund to be distributed to public schools for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The expected payout is roughly $830 million each year—or $1.7 billion.

What changes have you accomplished that will make this school year different from last? In an era of having to doing more with less, what progress have you made?

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Will there be more of an emphasis on critical-thinking skills and deeper understanding of concepts in your schools?

In July, San Bernardino became the third city in California to file for bankruptcy. California isn’t alone, however. In Scranton, Pa., for example, the mayor made a bold move by paying the city’s workers minimum wage, prompting a universal “gulp” from public employees across the country.