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Norman Public Schools is down about $6 million in state aid funding compared to last year, district leadership said Monday night.

In a presentation to the NPS Board of Education Monday, NPS Chief Financial Officer Brenda Burkett said that the district has received updated notice from the state on this year’s aid allocation. The district first receives notices in July, then gets revised information each January.

This January’s notice shows that while the district originally projected a per-student funding drop of $114 in July, NPS will actually see a drop of $200 per student compared to last year’s funding.

While NPS’ official enrollment count for the 2020-2021 school year is down about 1,800 students compared to the previous year, that number actually doesn’t much impact the drop in funding. Since the state allows districts to base their funding on their highest enrollment number of the current year or the previous two years, NPS will use its 2019-2020 enrollment numbers instead of this year’s, Burkett said.

Gov. Kevin Stitt took issue with this rule last week, expressing concern over the concept of districts receiving funding for so-called “ghost students” who no longer attend its schools. Stitt said he wants districts’ funding to be based on their most recent enrollment numbers.

“My own personal opinion of that is that I do think our districts have been able to benefit from the timing that it takes, when you’re losing enrollment, to adjust your staffing, to adjust the services that you’ve got — I’m in favor, personally, of allowing that higher child count to be used,” Burkett said. “But we will see how that shakes out.”

NPS Superintendent Nick Migliorino said Monday that using the highest enrollment count of the last few years allows the district to retain and pay the staff it needs.

“We have to plan forward, otherwise we get into a situation where you have to look at staffing and let people go,” Migliorino said, “Because between 91 and 93% annually is what we spend on staffing. That’s our cost from our budget … so that is significant. We have to be able to plan forward.”

But while NPS’ enrollment numbers don’t contribute much to this year’s drop in funding, enrollment is just one part of the complex state aid funding formula.

Among other factors, NPS’ chargeables — or local revenue, like ad valorem property taxes, that goes to the district and is subtracted from state aid — increased this year, meaning that the aid from the state will go down.

NPS’ state aid for this year is now down more than $4 million from what the district expected to lose in July, adding up to an overall loss of more than $6 million in state aid compared to last year. In July, NPS expected $48.5 million from the state. Now, the district expects $44.5 million, Burkett said.

Despite the dip in state aid, NPS will still have a healthy fund balance this year, Burkett said. The district grew its fund balance last year and will lose about $3 million from its fund balance this year, she said.

Additionally, the district is expecting about $8 million in federal stimulus money in a second round of funding, Burkett said. That money will be available until the end of 2023, and the district is able to use it as it needs or decides.

“We will be very smart with that federal stimulus money of $8 million,” Burkett said Monday.

Other business

Superintendent Nick Migliorino shared an update on the inclement weather forecast for this week, telling meeting viewers that while schools are still slated to open Tuesday, the district will be reassessing local sidewalk and road conditions at 4 or 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Board members also heard about the sale of two bond packages from NPS’ 2019 bond package. The first — $26.5 million in general obligation combined purpose bonds — went at a 0.419% interest rate to BNY Mellon Capital Markets, LLC. The sale saw the most bidders and the lowest interest rate the district has ever seen in a bond sale, Zack Robinson of BOK Financial Securities told the board.

The district also sold $2.4 million in general obligation building bonds at 0.61% to Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

Emma Keith covers Norman Public Schools and the University of Oklahoma for The Transcript. Reach her at ekeith@normantranscript.com or at @emma_ckeith.

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Emma Keith covers the coronavirus pandemic and education for The Norman Transcript, with a focus on Norman Public Schools and The University of Oklahoma. She is a 2019 OU graduate.