The state has reached a settlement about funding between two school districts that one of the districts said was key to its “continued existence.”
The state Board of Education adopted a final order Wednesday settling a long-running dispute between the Pineville Independent and Bell County school districts.
Pineville schools sought to count enrolled students for the 2019-2020 school year who live in the Bell County district for the purpose of receiving Support Excellence in Education funding. This is not uncommon but is contingent on written agreement between the districts concerned. In this case, that agreement did not exist.
At issue was close to $6,000 per student, per year. Pineville schools, the smallest district in the immediate area, argued their continued existence depends on that money.
Pineville can count those students enrolled during the 2018-2019 school year for the purpose of SEEK funding until they finish eighth grade, graduate or withdraw, whichever comes first. But Bell County district residents enrolled in Pineville schools during the 2019-2020 school year or later cannot be counted for SEEK funding, the order says.
The matter was appealed to the KBE, which approved the final order during its video meeting without further discussion or a closed session.
The decision was a modification of the August recommendation of a hearing officer and says for the 2018-2019 school year, Pineville will be allowed to count the Bell County residents it enrolled under an arrangement the Bell County Board of Education endorsed that year.
KBE member Mike Bowling, a resident of neighboring Middlesboro, abstained from that portion of discussion and voting.
Of the 548 Pineville students in 2019, only 197 lived in the district, while 268 lived in Bell County’s territory, with the rest from other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, Bell County schools enrolled only 59 students from Pineville Independent’s district.
The final order from the KBE says Pineville failed to show that Bell County students wouldn’t receive an adequate education in Bell County, only saying it couldn’t pay for its commitments without SEEK money for those students.
The order notes that is at least also somewhat true for Bell County.
The order says Pineville made no attempt to raise that revenue from another source, such as charging out-of-district students tuition. Meanwhile, Bell County said its higher property tax makes up for loss of SEEK funds, meaning its taxpayers are essentially subsidizing Pineville schools.
We have attached the order in it's entirety.