South Routt School District hosts budget workshop

Parents, members of the community participate in meeting

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— About 60 South Routt School District staff, parents and community members attended a School Board budget workshop Thursday night.

The workshop took on a town hall meeting feel with a question-and-answer session, a presentation of a rough draft of the 2010-11 school year budget and an exercise. Those who attended were divided into groups, given a worksheet and asked to make cuts or figure out how to generate additional revenue to meet the district’s projected 2010-11 budget shortfall of more than $472,000.

South Routt, along with the Steamboat Springs and Hayden school districts, is preparing for a budget year in which it must find a way to live without as much as 10 percent in state funding. South Routt’s shortfall is based on an estimated 7.75 percent reduction in state funding and increases to employee health insurance and retirement benefits.

Many of the questions dealt with the district’s preliminary list of possible budget cuts, such as reducing the district’s reserves; implementing furlough days for all staff members; shifting to a four-day week; cutting supplies, services and training; and laying off staff.

Superintendent Scott Mader said he wasn’t prepared to discuss staff cuts. He told the audience that none of the proposed cuts had been implemented.

Other questions dealt with a proposed mill levy override, at 25 percent of the school district’s assessed value, to generate an estimated $350,000. It would cost $50 per year on $300,000 of residential property and $180 on $300,000 of commercial property, according to figures the district provided.

But the biggest questions may have been: “Have we reached the bottom?” a parent asked. “What if it gets worse?”

“Yeah,” School Board Pres­ident Tim Corrigan said. “Next year could easily be worse than this year and probably will be.”

Mader said Colorado Depar­tment of Education officials have indicated that the state could reduce funding for the next three years.

Despite the impact potential cuts would have on the people sitting in the room, Lance Miles left thinking that the School Board and administration were being proactive by seeking the community’s feedback about the budget. Although there weren’t always answers, Miles, whose children Cody, Shelby and Lindsay attend Soroco High School, said he thought the district was doing what it could with limited resources.

“I’m very supportive of both the board and administrative staff to allow people’s input,” he said. “Ultimately, it comes down to their decisions, but at least they allow input.”

Former district teacher Ellen Bonnifield, whose two children graduated from Soroco High School, said she thought it was important the district hear the community’s concerns and wishes for the school and its children.

So does the district, Mader said.

“I think you do find what’s important to the culture of the community; you find out what’s important to them,” he said about engaging the community in the budget discussions.

Corrigan said the workshop’s high turnout — there also was good turnout at a District Account­­ability Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago — demonstrated how important the district was to the South Routt community.

Business Manager Dina Mur­­­­ray said she would use the feedback from the workshop to draft a preliminary budget that is scheduled to be presented to the School Board at the March 17 meeting. Board members are slated to approve the budget in June, but it’s not due to the state until January.

Before the workshop, the School Board discussed the mill levy override and declaring fiscal exigency. Fiscal exigency is the first legal step the district would take before enacting its “Reduction in Force,” or layoff, policy.

Board members asked whe­ther they need to approve that soon. Mader said the only downside was that it could worry some people.

“My suspicion is people are a little on edge anyway,” Corrigan said. “I think it’s pretty clear we’re not going to accomplish our staff reductions through attrition and retirements. I think we’re going to have to go the other way.”

Both discussion items will be included on the March 17 School Board agenda.

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