school finance - appleLori Smith is the Chief Financial Officer for Edmond Public Schools. This post is excerpted from an Edmond Public School brochure, “20 Questions (and Answers) about School Finance”.

What is State Aid?

State Aid represents the funds that are appropriated by the State Legislature for school districts, and distributed by the State Department of Education through the “State Aid Formula.” 

State Aid is based primarily on student counts, with allowances made for various student characteristics represented as grade and categorical weights.

State Aid uses the higher of the current or two previous years’ student counts. Thus, if a district’s student count increases, the State Aid is adjusted in the current year. If a district’s student count decreases, the State Aid does not decrease for two years.

The State Aid calculated using these student counts is then reduced for local revenue collections by subtracting “chargeables.”

What are “chargeables”?

“Chargeables” are a district’s local revenue sources that are included in its annual State Aid calculation. The revenue sources are: Ad valorem property taxes, motor vehicle collections, gross production taxes, school land earnings, county 4-mill taxes and rural electric association taxes. The amount of these funds collected by a district (current year for ad valorem & previous year for others) are “charged” or subtracted from the district’s State Aid since these funds are collected locally. As these revenue sources, such as ad valorem taxes, rise, the district’s “chargeables” also increase, meaning less State Aid for the district. (1)

What is the General Fund normally spent for?

The General Fund provides direct and support services for all students enrolled in the district. This includes salaries/benefits, instructional supplies/materials, equipment, utilities, insurance, and other costs.  School districts typically spend 80 to 95 percent of the General Fund on salaries and benefits.

What is the Building Fund normally spent for?

The Building Fund provides for maintenance and repair operations, upkeep and construction of district facilities and grounds, contractual services, and salaries/benefits for custodial and maintenance service.  By law, only salaries and benefits for these purposes may be paid from the Building Fund.

What is the Child Nutrition Fund normally spent for?

The Child Nutrition Fund provides for the purchase and delivery of food services to the district’s students and staff on a daily basis. This includes food costs, salaries/benefits for cafeteria staff, and purchase, maintenance, and repair of equipment.

Can school districts “borrow” money?

Oklahoma statues generally prohibit school debt, except for the following three instances:

  1. Bond issues
  2. Lease-purchase agreements
  3. Non-payable warrants

The most common way that school districts “borrow” money is through the passage of bond issues. State law requires approval of at least 60 percent of the voters in a bond election before a district can issue bonds.

What can bond issue proceeds be spent for?

Bond issue proceeds must be spent for improving or acquiring school sites, constructing, repairing, remodeling and equipping school buildings, and acquiring school furniture, fixtures, equipment, uniforms, technology and transportation equipment.

No less than 85 percent of all bond issue proceeds must be spent on the list of projects included in the bond resolution and approved by the voters. The remaining 15 percent can be spent on similar-type projects as approved in the bond issue election or can be used to reduce the sinking fund debt. By law, no salaries, benefits, or related costs can be paid with bond fund proceeds or interest earnings.

How are bond issues paid off?

Bond principal and interest are paid from ad valorem tax revenues.  Districts collect ad valorem taxes through a tax levy assessed on real property, personal property and public service property and place these collections in the “Sinking Fund.” This tax levy is referred to as the “Sinking Fund mill levy,” and is separate from the General Fund and Building Fund tax levies.

School bonds are limited to a 25 year term by state law, but five to ten year bonds are typical.

The Sinking Fund is also used to pay any judgments levied against the school district.  By law, no other expenditures can be paid from the Sinking Fund. The Sinking Fund levy changes each year based on the total property valuation in the district and the amount of bond principal and interest paid off during the year.

What is “fund balance”?

Fund balance is the “unencumbered” or “available” balance of funds at the end of a fiscal year that has not been reserved to pay for any goods/services which will be received after June 30 (the end of the fiscal year).  This is also referred to as a “carryover” or “surplus”.

Why is a fund balance necessary?

A fund balance is necessary for the following reasons:

  1. To help districts fund payroll and other costs during the first half of the school year when expenditures are more than revenue collections because there is no State Aid payment received in July, and the majority of ad valorem tax revenue is not received until January and April. (NOTE: State Aid payments are received equally over a period of 11 months — August through June.  State Aid is not paid to the district in a “lump sum” at the beginning of the fiscal year.)
  2. To meet any unanticipated expenses.
  3. To help fund future budgets, if planned expenditures exceed anticipated revenues.
The percentage of fund balance that can be carried into the next year is limited by state law.  The penalty for excess carryover is a reduction to state aid the next year.

What is a mill levy, and how is it used to calculate property taxes?

A “mill” is a term that was established in the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma. It is equivalent to one-tenth (1/10) of one penny ($0.001). The total mill levy for a taxpayer’s property includes all levies of the following entities that can choose to levy a tax.

  1. School District
  2. Vo-Tech District
  3. County / City
  4. Hospitals
  5. Library

Below is an example of how to calculate the school district’s portion of taxes levied for the calendar year.

EXAMPLE: $100,000 home in Edmond with a $1,000 homestead exemption.

  1. $100,000 X 11% assessment ratio (Oklahoma County) = $11,000
  2. $11,000 – $1,000 homestead exemption = $10,000
  3. Total millage levy:

General Fund 36.98 mills

Building Fund 5.28 mills

Sinking Fund 24.04 mills

Total levy 66.3 mills

  1. Total school district taxes:

$10,000 X 0.0663 (66.3 mills) = $663.00 ($55.25 per month)

To determine the total tax bill for the year, the other mill levies (vo-tech, county, etc.) must be included.

(1): Under legislation passed in 1990, school districts were supposed to be able to retain ad valorem revenue from commercial personal property and agricultural personal property above the state assessment ratio of 11 percent. However, the provision has never been implemented, leading some districts to receive less revenue than they were entitled to. The situation has now been officially recognized and a resolution is being discussed. – Editor