RESP's loss of Dickinson Public Schools generates budget concerns
Citing increasing fees without the service to back it up, Dickinson Public Schools opted to leave the Roughrider Educational Services Program, leaving program administrators with a worrisome budget gap.
The administrative board met Wednesday morning at the Dickinson Elks Building to discuss changes to the way RESP is run and how to handle the budget shortfall created when the largest school district it served voted to leave in February, taking away roughly half the student fees.
"One of the suggestions was let's look at the way we used to do things. It seemed to work really efficiently, and pay-to-play is not working very well," said Amy Axtman, executive director of RESP.
The pay-to-play model, which charged participating districts a fee per event, created uncertainty when planning, Axtman said.
"I don't have any concept or any idea of funding that's going to be available to plan projects," she said.
Regional education associations are funded based on enrollment, creating budget inequities between associations that serve large districts and those, like RESP, that serve smaller districts.
"They're all given the same mission to do the same things," Axtman said. "That becomes a challenge. We still have to meet the five guidelines under legislation, but we have a lot less money than some of the other REAs do."
There are many grants, including Succeed 2020, that RESP is awarded, but when a program is paid for by a grant, the regional association does not charge for it, resulting in a loss of revenue, she said.
Using rough numbers based on budget documents, Doug Sullivan, superintendent of DPS, pointed out that 100 percent of RESP's budget was dedicated to administrative costs, between salaries, benefits and office expenses.
"Part of the confusion is the way that the Succeed 2020 grant has been put together with RESP, because of the facilitation fee for that grant, we get charged out any of the expenses to that grant," Axtman said. "All of the overhead was kept in the RESP budget and all of the activities were put into the Succeed 2020 budget."
DPS left because fees were eating up more and more of its budget, Sullivan said.
In an effort to create more budgeting certainty, the executive committee proposed eliminating the per-school membership fee and instead charge per teacher, said Brent Bautz, superintendent of Richardton Taylor Schools.
If RESP switches to a per-teacher payment structure, DPS would owe more than $40,000 for membership
"What could we possibly get for that $50,000?" Sullivan asked the room full of superintendents. "When I look at this and the entire budget being absorbed apparently through salary, benefits and overhead ... it doesn't look like any of these services for professional development are going to be provided directly by RESP personnel."
Axtman has been waiting for clearer direction as to the needs of the schools since she began as RESP executive director in 2009, she said.
"I can listen to what you want and go to work," Axtman said. "Because now I know I have funding to do it, I know what you want, it can happen. Those two things have been rather unclear to me since I took this position. I don't know how much money I'm going to have to work with and I really haven't gotten input a lot on what it is that you need."