House bill will not affect smaller schools

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— Area superintendents are breathing a sigh of relief now that a House bill that would have hurt districts with shrinking enrollments will no longer bring such repercussions.

House Bill 1349 would have changed the way the state funds districts by cutting funding for districts with decreasing student numbers at a faster rate.

Opponents of the bill said it would benefit districts with increasing enrollments at the expense of smaller districts with declining enrollments.

The Soroco and Hayden school districts, like many rural school districts in Colorado, must increasingly do more with less.

Their declining student numbers force them to tighten budgets and in some cases, cut staff.

The Soroco School District cut a teaching position last year to compensate for the loss in funding dealt by declining enrollments.

The students the district loses every year do not come from one classroom, so the loss of just one teacher impacts a small school, Soroco Superintendent Steve Jones said.

"We don't want to cut anymore," Jones said. "That works against us."

Five years ago, the district boasted 565 students. Today, 424 students attend one of three schools.

Jones said he anticipated the district could lose another five to 10 students in the next year.

The bill could have cost his district $15,000 a year, he said.

It might seem like a small amount, Jones said, but it's money that matters to his district.

"We're going to keep fighting to keep what we have," he said.

Under a four-year averaging plan, districts can still receive money for students who no longer attend the district, by averaging previous higher enrollments.

That means districts like Hayden can average its 1999 enrollment with lower enrollments that have befallen its classrooms in recent years.

The 1999 529 student figure goes a long way in raising the school's current 461 student figure.

Districts now receive about $6,200 per pupil. The bill could have taken about $1,500 from the amount paid for students who do not actually attend the district, Hayden Superintendent Scott Mader said.

According to a Feb. 26 article in The Denver Post, Rep. Keith King, the bill's co-sponsor, ar-

gued the state should not pay for students who do not exist in dwindling school districts.

But when it comes to dealing with the effects of declining enrollments, Mader said, every student counts.

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