Duluth School Board divided on compensatory education funding - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Duluth School Board divided on compensatory education funding

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The Duluth School Board is divided when it comes to the issue of compensatory educating funding and how to distribute the dollars equally.

The funding is state money for schools based on the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch.

In a special meeting last night, the school board failed to get the majority vote necessary to change the way the district spends that money.

The Duluth School District currently uses about half of its compensatory education funding on a number of district-wide projects, including keeping class sizes low, and paying for curriculum expenses.

Currently Denfeld gets about 80 percent of the compensatory funds its own students generate, while Duluth East gets about four times the amount proportional to its students. Duluth East also currently sees 1515 students, while Denfeld sees 983.

Harry Welty, along with fellow board members Art Johnston and Alanna Oswald, called a special meeting Tuesday to bring forward a motion to change that distribution by 2019.

"Compensatory education, which accounts for about $6 million, is designed and given to us by the state the idea being that we would have it follow the neediest kids," he said.

In a three-three vote, the motion failed. 

According to chair David Kirby, he and board members Annie Harala and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, voted against the measure because it wasn't the right time to change the source of that district-wide funding.

But Welty said they can't wait too long.

"If you live in one of the western schools and you're watching your neighbor's children moving off and going to Wrenshall, Esko or Hermantown because parents are not satisfied with what's going on in the Denfeld high school just maybe we have a bit of an emergency that we need to address," he said.

Kevin Skwira-Brown leads the group Duluth equity initiative, which has been working to attack this gap and while he said the board should budget for class size reduction, it should come out of the general fund. 

"How long should we take the money that's aimed at meeting their needs and instead use it for class size reduction across the district that primarily benefits students that are not experiencing the achievement gap."

He said the students who need it should not lose those dollars because the board is short on other funds.

As the current board meets for the last time in December, Skwira-Brown is looking forward to moving other equity initiatives forward.

He said he's hopeful about the future although two of the members he's been working with, Johnston and Welty, are on the way out.

"We'll have lost two strong advocates and hopefully we'll have some strong advocates who will be taking those places."

Sally Trnka, Jill Lofald and Josh Gorham are joining the board and Skwira Brown said both actively discussed equity in their campaigns and have been open to discussions with the initiative as they prepare to take their seats come January.

The Duluth School board has voted on this issue before. In June they unanimously voted to change this compensatory funding distribution, but this is the first time they've addressed specifics.

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