The Calhoun County school system is operating on a balanced budget, but a falling student population is a crucial factor planners will need to remember down the line.
That was the message earlier this month from the school board’s chief financial officer, John Godwin, who presented the 2022-23 budget at the board’s regular meeting. The board voted to approve the document, which anticipates spending $134,324,620 during the fiscal year.
That money will come from $122.3 million in revenue and other fund sources, supplemented by a leftover $45.9 million from last year.
He urged employees who might want to implement additional programs to do so with an eye toward the future, if starting a program means adding salaries to the budget.
Godwin said the falling student populations in the county and throughout the state are matters of consideration for planning future budgets. Most of the public schools’ money comes from the state, and the money each school gets is based on student population. According to the Alabama State Board of Education’s website, the Public Data Reports show that the school population has fallen by 1,365 during the past 10 years.
The student population in the Calhoun County School System has fallen by 477 since the 2018-19 school year and continues to fall. The population figures for each school system affect next year’s budget.
The fall in numbers did not happen at any one school, but throughout the system, Godwin said, explaining that there are a few less students in different grades.
“This is hard for all systems statewide,” Godwin said. “They are showing similar numbers.”
Figures for school population during the past four years are as follows (figures don’t include the number of students in the preschool program, which is funded through the Department of Early Childhood): In 2018-19, 8,301 students. In 2019-20, 8,199; in 2020-21, 7,829; in 2021-22, 7,822. The population figures for the 2022-23 year, which will be used for next year, are 7,791.
REASONS FOR FALLING SCHOOL POPULATIONS
Populations are falling in most cities in Alabama, except where jobs are added and growth is occurring. Over the past 10 years, the population in Calhoun County has fallen. In 2010, it was 118,572 in 2010 and 116,441 in 2020, according to online U.S. Census Bureau, with the 2021 figure showing another drop to 115,972.
There are multiple reasons for falling school populations, according to Jose Reyes, the Calhoun County school superintendent.
“Vital statistics clearly indicate the birth rate is down in this county,” Reyes said. “In most instances, the reason the population decreases is also due to jobs moving out. I’ve not been here all my life, but you can trace the loss of students to the closing of military base. That was a huge factor, and it impacted the county ‘s other school systems.
Another major issue, Reyes mentioned, is that students have more options where to receive their education, such as with the rise in popularity of homeschooling and private and online schools.
HOW SCHOOL BUDGETS ARE FUNDED
School systems receive money from three main sources. The program that provides the money for Alabama is called the State Foundation Project, and a formula defines the amount each system receives.
That formula is determined by figuring the average daily number of students during the previous year divided by the number of students per grade (this varies per grade) which equals the number of teaching units.
For example, for a typical high school of 500 students divided by 17.95 students in each grade would equal 27.85 teaching units. The formula varies somewhat based on other factors, such as the number of special education students and the number of career technical students. The state gives schools additional personnel to assist these students.
The decrease in the schools’ population means Calhoun County Schools have lost 2.81 teacher units last year, .5 of an assistant principal and 1.5 of a school guidance personnel.
“If this is a natural trend,” Godwin said, “We will plan to adjust our scenario and funding for the future.”
This year’s budget shows the variety of sources from which the schools’ money comes. For example, $8,250,000 comes from the county’s one cent sales tax; a countywide ad valorem tax brings in $3,165,000 and a district special ad valorem tax generates $4,518,115. Add to that the district regular ad valorem tax of $1,350,000 and an alcohol beverage tax of $270,000. Others income came from the Medicaid Outreach Program, $400,000; Business Privilege Tax, $50,000; district tax “Helping Schools” Vehicle Tax, $18,000; the Manufactured Homes Registration fee, $3,000; and “other income” is $400,118. The total is $18,424,233.
Godwin said local revenue is more volatile than state or federal dollars because funds fluctuate based on local factors, such as changes in taxation rates, specialty car tag fees, and the general condition of local business.
Reyes said managing the local dollars is critical because much of the federal and state dollars are earmarked for certain aspects of the budget.
Programs from the federal government depend on what’s been authorized by Congress and/or the president. Currently, these include Title I (for giving assistance to students having academic difficulties), $2,067,557; Title II Part A (provides supplemental funding for teacher training), $318,257; Title IV, Safe and Drug Free program, $170,709; IDEA-B’s Individuals with Disabilities Act — $2,087,193; Preschool Part B — $31,041; Federal Vocational/Technical Preparation — $124,502; the CARES (the Coronavirus Aid, the Relief and Economic Security Act/ the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds — $18,360,931. Finally, there is the Child Nutrition Program for school lunchrooms, $2,472,783.
In addition to the usual funds provided to Calhoun County Schools each year, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provided funds for COVID relief, although this money comes with restrictions on how it can be spent. It’s also a one-time allocation.
“The ARPA funds will be spent down over the next few years,” Godwin said.
CHALLENGE TO CFOs
The chief financial officer of each school must consider federal and state mandates that are not fully funded. To pay for salaries and all the expenses necessary to carry out the students’ education, these considerations leave the CFOs having to dip into local funds to carry out those mandates.
Godwin has earned the praise of Reyes, who only began his job this school year. He describes Godwin as meticulous.
“He knows where every penny goes,” Reyes said. “What Mr. Godwin does for me is that assure me that the financial information he provides for me is always accurate. That helps me tremendously in terms of making the best financial decisions for this school system.”