Soroco may be forced to cut middle school principal's job

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— In response to declining budget revenues and an attempt to stop spending from its reserves, the South Routt School District will take action this week on a plan to reorganize its district, including the elimination of two teaching positions and a principal position.

District officials hope the changes will help the district reduce its dependence on spending reserves without affecting its educational programs.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't faced with some real financial challenges," South Routt Superintendent Steven Jones said.

For the past four years, the small school district has spent from its reserves to meet its budget requirements. The decision to do so came about four years ago when reserve funds were in the neighborhood of $1 million, Jones said.

At the time, Jones and members of the South Routt School Board agreed spending money on education was better than keeping it in the bank; the general consensus was to maintain reserves at about $350,000.

Now, reserves have been eaten down to that $350,000 mark, and the best way to prevent them from dipping further is to cut an administrative position and two staff positions, Jones said.

The move, if approved at Thursday's board meeting, will allow the district to equal expenditures with revenue next year, Jones said.

"We can't just keep borrowing from our reserves," Jones said. "We have to make this adjustment."

However, declining district enrollment will continue to plague the school district's revenue, much as it has the past six years, during which enrollment declined each year. The 417-student district has nearly 50 fewer students than it did in 1997, and demographic projections hint that enrollment will continue to decline for at least the next five years, Jones said.

Because the state's school budgeting formula is largely based on district size, the fewer students a district has, the less money it receives. As the South Routt School District continues to lose students, its incoming revenue from the state also will decline.

And with a struggling national and local economy, Jones said he agrees with demographic projections and doesn't envision enrollment leveling off in the near future.

"We're having a big hit on our revenue side," he said. "I don't see any affordable housing in this area to attract families."

School board President Hank deGanahl said the changes, if approved, are indicative of the times.

"My feeling is that these are tough times everywhere," deGanahl said. "We're forced to make some changes."

Meanwhile, the district has 18 years left on a 20-year bond approved by voters for district capital improvements. The improvements, which include middle school renovation, elementary school expansion and remodeling of the high school, have drastically improved district facilities, but the district will continue to pay off the bond at about $650,000 a year, Jones said.

The district also is proposing a staff salary increase that will raise base salary from $26,500 to $27,000.

"I'd like to do more, but I don't think we can," Jones said.

District administrators and staff members have developed two plans to help the district adjust to the probable changes. One plan addresses kindergarten through sixth-grade needs while the other speaks to the needs of seventh through 12th grades.

Part of the plans calls for the elimination of the Soroco Middle School principal position, held by Mike Hare.

"It has absolutely nothing to do with his performance," Jones said. "We are very supportive of Mike."

Under the plans, Soroco High School Principal James Chamberlin will assume Hare's duties, and a half-time dean of students position may be created to help Chamberlin handle his increased workload.

The district will not eliminate existing teacher positions; rather, two teachers resigning at the end of the school year will not be replaced, Jones said.

According to the plans, district sixth-graders will attend Yampa Elementary School -- where a recent expansion added six classrooms -- instead of the middle school. Sixth-grade classes will continue to be held at Yampa Elementary School for at least the next five years, Jones said.

Although the middle school principal position is being eliminated, the middle school is not. In response to concerns from the staff and the community that middle school students retain their own identity separate from the high school, two vacated middle school classrooms will be used for electives, keeping the seventh- and eighth-graders in the middle school building for more of the day. In past years, middle-schoolers have walked to the high school for some electives.

"We will retain the middle school identity," Jones said.

Staff at all three district schools will work together to make it through these tough times, Jones said.

"(These are) big changes, but not huge," Jones said. "We are trying to minimize the impact on our educational program. I think we have put some plans together that will address most of the concerns of most of the parents. We will continue to work with the parents who still have concerns."

"The plans that I've heard have the potential to be very positive for the district," deGanahl said. "I'm really happy with what the staff has proposed."

While it will certainly take time for the district to adjust to the potential changes, the end result can be positive, deGanahl said. Proposed changes will not deter the district from its goal to provide the best possible education for the children in the district, he said.

Like deGanahl, Jones and others will remain optimistic.

"We're going to make this thing work," Jones said.

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