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Mathematical Meltdown: State is scrambling to get money back into classrooms

Mathematical Meltdown: State is scrambling to get money back into classrooms

CREATED Jan. 31, 2013

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN0-TV) -- It's a massive mathematical meltdown affecting hundreds of districts and charter schools. The State Department of Education made an error in calculating classroom funding since 2006. And now it's scrambling to reimburse 38 million dollars to some districts -- and recoup 6 million dollars from others.    

Schools underpaid include:
TUSD -- more than 1.6 million dollars.
Sunnyside District -- more than 280 thousand dollars.
Amphi District -- nearly 700-thousand dollars.

Some statewide charter schools received more money than it should. Basis Schools now has to pay back nearly 400 thousand dollars.

How the heck did this happen? State Department of Education Executive Director, Policy Development and Government Relations Stacey Morley put this into perspective. "This was probably the most egregious because it happened to every school. Every school was affected."

She said the Dept. of Education's finance director caught the mistake after staff manually entered wrong numbers into the statewide student data system. She said staff had to enter the numbers manually because the data system is too old to handle complex formulas for funding.

"The data system is an "F." It's an "F" data system," said Morley.

Cavazos asked Morley, "So we're dealing with an antiquated system, then how do we know it's not going to happen again?" She answered, "We don't. It misallocates payments all the time." She said the system is getting older and she fears that it will suddenly stop working.

Morley adds that the state legislature shares the responsibility for failing to approve 34 to 40 million dollars in funding to update the data system.

So how is the state fixing the problem? It will adjust payments to the schools over the next two fiscal years. And if a school struggles to pay, it can seek mercy legislation that extends the time for repayment. Morley said the important thing is to make sure schools don't shutdown because of this mistake.

Cavazos contacted a number of charter schools and districts superintendents for reaction. Some administrators are still trying to figure out the impact to their districts and schools. The Vail District, which was overpaid nearly $160,000, is not worried.  Superintendent Calvin Baker told Cavazos that the district operates in the black so it can easily give the money back. Morley said that many of the charter schools will likely feel the most pain because they operate on very tight budgets.