By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
While Eastern Kentucky University is working to cut 10 percent from its budget, the cliche “everything is on the table” keeps getting repeated as the Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force goes about evaluating all of the university’s programs.
One of those EKU programs is Model Laboratory School, the only remaining school of its kind in the state. EKU’s continued funding of the school has been the subject of rumors since the university announced its reallocation plan.
However, the task force, which is still gathering information, has until April 30th to report its recommendations to the Board of Regents, said Marc Whitt, EKU spokesperson.
“Reporting any decision or possibility regarding Model prior to that date is premature,” he said.
But the topic of Model’s funding “appears to be misunderstood by most people and even misrepresented by a few,” said James Dantic, the school’s director.
He welcomed the opportunity to clarify how his school is financed, he said, as funds are drawn from multiple sources.
In Model’s 2012-13 budget, the school received $2.3 million in state and federal money (43.1 percent of the budget); almost $1.8 million from parents for tuition, book and technology fees (33.5 percent); and approximately $1.2 million from EKU (23.5 percent).
These amounts do not include what the university pays for the school’s maintenance costs. Model also does not receive funds from a local tax base.
“Model is the best deal on campus,” said former state representative and EKU employee Harry Moberly. “There is hardly any other unit on campus that has that big of an impact on Eastern students and has that much outside funding.”
Although “everything is on the table,” he said talks about cutting Model’s budget, or closing the school “is very short-sighted and lacks vision.”
Established in 1906 as part of the Eastern State Normal School, Model has always been a school where teachers were trained, Moberly said.
EKU students currently receive about 10,000 hours of undergraduate support from Model for a variety of education classes, Dantic said. This doesn’t include student-teaching hours.
Moberly was instrumental in passing the 1986 legislation allowing Model to strike a deal with the county school district to keep its doors open. This was at a time when the old Council on Higher Education (now Council on Post-secondary Education) no longer recommended funding for laboratory schools, Moberly said, and laboratory schools began to close all over the state.
But Model “always meant a lot to the community, and to the university and the (EKU) students who are trained there,” he said.
The 1986 agreement between the university and the school board designated Model as a “learning center” of the county district. Model’s student population would be counted in the county’s attendance reports, and Model’s allocation of state funding would be funneled through Madison County Schools.
Under the original 1986 agreement, the county schools would retain a $5,000 administrative fee along with the “power equalization” funds and capital funds generated by students attending Model within the county school district.
Both Dantic and Debbie Frazier, the county district’s chief finance officer, were uncertain about how Model’s portion of state funds — or “power equalization” funds — was originally determined.
However, when the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 restructured the funding of public education in Kentucky, an addendum to the 1986 agreement was required.
“Power Equalization is not specifically identified in the (newly formed) SEEK funding formula,” the addendum states. Therefore, Model’s allotment of state funds was calculated on a percentage ratio based on the schools’ 1989-90 state funding, then called “foundation allotment.”
During the 2011-12 school year, the county district retained nearly $283,000, or 12.7 percent, of Model’s $2.2 million in state SEEK and capital funds, along with the $5,000 administrative fee.
Model is permitted to keep all of its special-education funding, however, which was a little more than $326,000 last year.
Moberly recalled “a little bit of controversy in the community” after the passage of the bill in 1986. Some people thought Model students ought to be absorbed into the county system, which didn’t have room for them at that time, he said.
Affects to county schools
Today, Madison County Schools could absorb Model’s 316 elementary, 175 middle and 220 high school students if Model were to close its doors, said Dr. Kevin Hub, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources.
When the county looked at redistricting in February, Hub calculated that Richmond’s elementary schools have the capacity for 400 more students.
He said the most difficult part would be finding a place for Model’s teachers, who would be required to go through the same hiring process as new applicants if they were to seek a position with the county district.
Having been a resident of this area for 20 years, Hub said, “the fact that it has been around for 100 years, losing Model would be a big issue.”
However, if Model's students found themselves at county schools, “the children will be educated,” Hub said.
People may debate whether there is a big difference between attending Model Elementary and, for example, Kit Carson Elementary, Hub said. But “obviously we’re going to say: ‘No problem parents. The education we provide your children is going to be awesome.’”
Efforts to reduce Model’s budget
Dantic said he couldn’t speculate as to whether EKU would cut funding to Model as “all things are on the table.”
But, “I understand. If the money is not there, you have to cut it,” he said. “We’ll have to look at ways to decrease the university’s ($1.2 million) commitment to us.”
However, parts of Model’s budget has already seen cuts over the years.
Dantic took over as director in 2001. In 2004, the school’s maintenance and operations budget was $430,000, he said.
This fund covers school supplies, professional development fees, insurance, $24,000 in need-based scholarship money and “anything else it takes to run a school,” Dantic said.
Today, that budget item is $178,804, less than half the 2004 amount.
Other Model expenditures include about $4.8 million in personnel; $139,000 for technology; $80,000 for textbooks; and $90,000 for special education.
Dantic said Model’s mission is “interwoven with strands of pre-K through 12th-grade public education as well as those of undergraduate public education.”
“Similar to the dynamic nature of Model’s instructional mission, its financial support is equally multifaceted in addressing student need,” he said.
It is understandable how some might consider Model to be a private school because of the tuition requirement, he said. But, “that is a rather narrow interpretation when one considers the very public responsibility of the school in providing instruction to both pre-K through 12th-grade pupils as well as state university students.”
Model’s aging building
Completed in 1961, Model’s school building on Lancaster Avenue is aging.
EKU is responsible for maintaining the building or constructing a new one if a decision is made to do so.
Part of Model’s funds retained by the county school district are “capital outlay” funds slated for construction projects. Model also does not have a local tax base, which is required to receive state capital funds.
While Harry Moberly was still a state representative, funding for a new Model school building was attached to a house bill, he said, but it never passed the Senate.
“There is an ongoing effort to have Model considered as part of the state’s school-building efforts,” he said.
The General Assembly has special appropriations to help rebuild some of the oldest schools in the state that are in most need of replacement, he said.
In order to construct a new building for Model, state funding as well as private funding would be needed, Moberly said.
“I think there is hope on the horizon that if Model continues to prosper, we’ll be able to figure out a way to build a school there,” he said.
Model is known for high-quality academics and for continually achieving some of the best test scores in the state, Moberly pointed out.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.