|Money to run a public school system includes many expenditures such as transportation. While salaries and benefits account for the largest amount of money expended by a district, operation of plants, transportation and food service must be considered when looking at school finances.|
With many changes in the works, a building to be demolished and a new elementary school to be built, the Carbon County Board of Education has approved a $35,981,000 budget for the 2007 fiscal year.
During a June 14 meeting, board members had few questions about the budget. But Carbon School District business administrator Bill Jewkes explained how he had arrived at the figures and where the funding sources are derived.
"For many people, it is a mystery as to where we get our money to run the district,"said Jewkes. "I think information on how we come up with our budget is important for the board and for the public to understand."
The budget includes costs for operations and maintenance as well as every expenditure the school district has.
Examining and approving operational budgets for governmental entities is one of the most important jobs elected officials have.
For many residents, it may be difficult to imagine the amounts of money that must be spent to educate students. But conisdering salaries - which make up the bulk of a budget - and the cost of facilities, the expenses rise quickly.
The United States spends more than $440 billion per year for kindergarten to 12th grade public education programs.
Of the total amount, about $40 billion comes form the federal government, with the rest coming from state and local sources.
While Utah has always enjoyed a reputation for a good public education system, the state ranks the lowest in the country in per student expeditures.
However, some people believe the statistic is skewed because of Utah's traditionally larger families and more children divides the money available by that many more ways.
Jewkes pointed out that the money to operate Carbon's school system comes from a number of different sources, including local, state and federal revenues. The district has seven distinct funds from which the public school system operates.
The budget includes a general fund, a non-K-12 fund, a capital outlay fund, a debt service fund, a food service fund, a school activities fund and a fund for the Southeastern Service Center.
The history of school finance in Utah is long, but interesting.
Before statehood, education was primarily a local concern. Buildings belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequently acted as schools.
Revenues to operate the schools came from donations and tuitions paid for students.
In about 1890, local education systems started to consolidate or from districts which led to the first public school in Utah.
At the beginning, there were 224 school districts in the state. The school systems were consolidated into 40 districts by the beginning of World War I by the state legislature.
To fund thes districts, a foundation program was established in 1921, with state participation based on Utah income taxes. Local participation included personal property taxes based on value.
In 1931, a statewide plan to equalize funding based upon weighted pupil counts and cost differentials was put into action in Utah.
In 1948, a new education foundation plan earmarked income taxes for funding public education. The plan utilized the Uniform School Fund.
A standard accounting system was established, uniform tax rates were set and equalization of tax support was guaranteed.
A program of weighted distribution units was set up to disburse funds.
State funding for building became part of the program at the same time.
In addition federal impact aid, which was increasing in importance, an increased weight for property taxes, and the voted leeway were all added to the funding plan.
Many of the changes remain in place today.
In 1973, a school finance reform effort resulted in a change improving statewide tax equalization and the conversion to weighted pupil units (WPU) to provide more balance between district revenues.
At the same time, a number of categorical programs were introduced into the system with special services and programs that were not included in the original formula.
The year 1989 saw the last major change in Utah's public school finance program.
In 1989, a number of budgetary and formula changes were recommended and implemented.
The changes included developing a capital outlay equalization program and a capital outlay foundation program with an emergency building needs component added to the formula.
Currently, the general financial funding components of a district's budget in Utah include weighted pupil units (WPU), the assessed values of property within the local public school system's boundaries and taxes.
The aspect that generally receives the most publicity of the three funding vehicles is that of the weighted pupil unit, because based on what the legislature appropriates for education, it changes from year to year.
The history of the weighted pupil unite is filled with controversy.
Started in the late 1940s as a means to equalize money going to schools for students, the WPU program began with high rates compared to the average salaries of taxpayers of the days.
For example, the WPU in 1956-1957 was worth $4,050 per student to a school district.
At that time, the average earnings for a Utahns registered in the range of $4,000 per year.
During the ensuing years, the weighted pupil unit - the primary source of funding for school districts - rose until reaching $9,210 in 1972.
In 1972, the WPU was changed and combined with the state's basic school program.
The following year, the weighted pupil unit was set at $508.
Since 1973, the WPU has increased almost every year, registering at $2,280 in 2005-2006.
The amount of funding designated for the weighted pupil unit for the approaching school year will come in at $2,417.
The WPU is the amount of money a district receives for each student in attendance during the school year.
The weighted pupil unit is not based on attendance, but in total membership.
Therefore, the number of days students attend school become important to a district's funding.
At the end of the year, districts figure membership numbers and the totals determine the amount of money the public school systems will be funded for from the WPU.
For example, if a student attends 170 of the 180 days of school, the days count toward the WPU funding.
But the days missed by the students are not factored into the weighted pupil unit fund formula.
The WPU funding figures are derived by factoring in the aggregate total days of school attended by students.