Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma School Districts Looking for Solutions to Funding Problems

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma School Districts Looking for Solutions to Funding Problems

Article excerpt

Some of El Reno school Superintendent Ranet Tippens' students go to class in a building constructed in 1911. The district has built only one new building since 1963. Some school buildings have leaking roofs, others asbestos tiles that must be waxed over until money is available for expensive removal.

The problem?

"El Reno is landlocked," Tippens told a House budget subcommittee Tuesday.

That is her term to explain the fact that of the 41.5 square miles of property that make up the El Reno Public Schools ad valorem tax base, one-third consists of federal property or Indian land on which ad valorem taxes are not paid.

In addition to a federal prison, Tippens said, El Reno has a federal research station, Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal land and housing, and a private school. She said that results in a minimal tax base that hampers the district's ability to build, maintain and improve school buildings and provide necessary equipment, transportation and technology.

Ad valorem taxes contribute a portion of school funding in every Oklahoma school district, but the percentage varies due to the amount of tax-exempt property in a district. Impact aid is designed to ease the effect the presence of federal property has on a district's tax base.

However, Tippens said El Reno's $101,664 in impact aid does not close the gap. She also said the presence of so much untaxed property has a substantial effect on building and sinking funds and the amount of bonded indebtedness a district can carry for school construction, maintenance and other needs.

Tippens said El Reno's per-student property valuation is 63 percent of the state average.

"Oklahoma has a funding formula that definitely helps equalize through the general fund, but it does not address bonding capacity and the building fund," she said. "Those are directly tied to ad valorem, thus the true inequity in funding Oklahoma schools."

She said El Reno voters continue to compensate for the limited tax base by voting bonds in excess of the state cap, issuing them as bonding power becomes available.

Tippens said the state has a few options on how to address the problem, which is not unique to El Reno.

She said lawmakers could fund a school building equalization measure. …

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