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Published November 25, 2013, 04:29 PM

District tries to pin down aid amount

The Grand Forks School District soon will find out whether it will get less federal money for the education of Air Force base children than it was counting on for this year.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald

The Grand Forks School District soon will find out whether it will get less federal money for the education of Air Force base children than it was counting on for this year.

Federal Impact Aid helps fund districts with a large federal presence, such as the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Districts use it as they would property taxes, to pay for basic needs such as hiring teachers.

School officials have cited a loss of Impact Aid as one of the main factors contributing to its budget shortfall this year, which prompted a 21.6 percent tax increase this year.

This year, the district’s budget anticipated $2.5 million in aid, but they do not know if they will receive that amount.

Aid to the district has been declining in recent years in part because of a drop in student enrollment at the base, a shortage of housing there and a lack of money for the program itself, district officials have said.

At a joint meeting Monday of the School Board and base officials, Superintendent Larry Nybladh said the district soon will get the first of several payments of Impact Aid, but it might not be the full amount they expect.

District Business Manager Vicky Schwartz declined to give a specific dollar amount that could be cut because so many factors can change, “you never know exactly” what it is, she said.

While the district will wait until December to find out the amount of its first Impact Aid payment, it will continue to support efforts to expand the base mission, expand housing there and lobby Congress, said Nybladh.

“Congress is really who controls this,” he said.

Challenges

School officials said it’s very difficult to budget for Impact Aid.

Each year, they must guess how much they’ll receive in aid because they get the payments throughout the year, they said.

By the time they receive it, the school board has already set its budget, Nybladh said.

“You get your money during the year that you actually spend it, so if there are cuts in funding, you end up having to incur those cuts when you’ve already budgeted for it,” he said.

Last year, the district received $2.4 million, or about half of what it expected. They based the budget on historic levels of funding to guess how much they might make, said Nybladh.

Instead of receiving 85 percent of what a federal formula sets for the district’s aid, as they anticipated, the amount ended up being 70 percent, he said. Federal budget sequestration and other adjustments also reduced the amount received.

“Unfortunately, you deficit spend in those situations,” he said.

This year, the district budgeted for $2.5 million in aid.

Funding formula

More aid is given for students who attend school on base than for those who live in town or in rural areas.

The district receives a full payment for students who live and attend school on the base, while only 20 percent is given for those who live off base, according to a district report.

Districts found to be less financially dependent on the payment receive less funding, said Schwartz.

The amount of funding each district receives hinges on a formula that incorporates the percentage of federal students, operating expenditures and other information to determine the nationwide average it would cost to educate children.

“If you say you’re being funded at 75 percent, it means the government appropriates 75 percent of what it thinks would be appropriate for an adequate education,” said Nybladh.

He said they’re “hopeful” the district will receive 100 percent funding, but the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the aid, is “not very good about communicating with local school districts about their thought process,” he said.

The School Board will discuss more budget related items at the Dec. 9 meeting.

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