District finances on solid ground

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A strong local tax revenue base should protect the Steamboat district from the impacts of $222 million in potential cuts for education spending, district Finance Director Dale Mellor told the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night.

School finance law says school districts with sufficiently high local tax revenues can be required to pay for programs that otherwise would be funded by the state. While that means less state funding for districts like Steamboat's, it also means they're not as vulnerable to state budget fluctuations.

"We sometimes complain because we're a categorical buyout district, but this is a time when we're not affected by the state's budget," Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said.

The biggest potential impact on the district's budget likely would come from a state cut in all-day kindergarten funding. The district received $82,000 in additional funding last year after beginning an all-day kindergarten program.

"This is so preliminary right now because nobody knows what's going on," Mellor said. "I hope I'm not under-reacting right now, but there's not a whole lot : that's going to affect the Steamboat school district."

Nevertheless, Mellor told the board that district administrators continually are considering potential long-term issues.

"We're not just sitting back and ignoring this. We're looking at this on a daily basis," he said.

Board member Denise Connelly said she would like the board to discuss the potential downturns before cuts become necessary.

"I think we need to be proactive as a board and : talking about our acceptance of (Education Fund Board) gifts, what our priorities are and where we are going to put our money," she said.

John DeVincentis agreed, saying early discussion of district goals could prevent future "political battles."

"I don't want to wait until we have to start cutting. The best time is right now when we're not thinking about cutting, and we can set priorities," he said.

The district's finances for the current school year are on track, Mellor said, with only a few overruns in expenses.

The budget for the 2008-09 school year, formally accepted Monday night, includes $21.27 million in general fund expenditures, an increase of $532,960 from the 2007-08 school year.

Salaries and benefits, at 86 percent of the budget, increased $389,490 to $16.19 million.

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