Routt County school districts brace for cuts

Governor’s budget proposes reductions to K-12 education funding statewide


By the numbers

How Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed cuts would affect Routt County schools

■ Total program funding

District 2010-11 2011-12 Change

Steamboat $14,875,955.30 $13,931,250.95 $944,704.35

Hayden $3,449,107.38 $3,167,090.85 $282,016.53

South Routt $3,597,107.75 $3,118,941.32 $478,166.43

■ Per-pupil

District 2010-11 2011-12 Change

Steamboat $6,822.58 $6,331.24 $491.34

Hayden $8,474.47 $7,963.52 $510.95

South Routt $8,729.09 $8,145.58 $583.51

Source: Colorado Department of Education

— The Routt County school districts expected to have to cut their 2011-12 budgets. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

“We’re looking at $600 a student,” South Routt Finance Director Dina Murray said. “It’s huge. It’s going to be painful.”

As the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts begin to draft their budgets for next school year, they learned this week that they’ll have less to work with.

Colorado Gov. John Hicken­­looper proposed cutting $332 million for K-12 public education in 2011-12, compared with this year — an average reduction of $497 per-pupil — in an effort to balance the state’s budget. The K-12 education budget represents 41 percent of Colorado’s budget.

Hickenlooper said in a news release that his proposal made difficult choices to ensure the state’s budget would be sustainable, an important step toward short- and long-term economic growth. But he acknowledged that it wouldn’t be easy.

“Make no mistake, the choices we are making today will hurt,” Hickenlooper said.

The problem isn’t just that public K-12 education is taking another major funding hit after being reduced by $260 million last year, said Liane Morrison, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonpartisan advocacy group for the state’s schools.

Morrison said the real issue is that the state provides nearly $1,700 less per student than the national average, according to figures from the 2007-08 school year, the most recent available. She said that placed Colorado at 40th among U.S. states.

And because the funding continues to decrease, Morrison said it’s not any easier to increase achievement levels or better prepare students for college or the work force.

“Our investment levels in education have been eroding,” she said. “We’re not competing very well with our neighboring states or the rest of the country. That ultimately will have implications for the rest of our economy.”

Local school officials have been bracing for cuts after reducing their budgets each of the past two years.

“I think we have known for a long time that education has been protected from cuts over the years and we would see further cuts,” Steamboat Superintendent Shalee Cunn­ingham said.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, the reduction in Steamboat’s total program funding — the amount of money the district receives based on the Oct. 1 pupil count — will be nearly $945,000, or $491 per student.

The district trimmed about $1.8 million this year. It cut about $500,000 in 2009-10.

Steamboat Finance Director Dale Mellor said with increases to employee health insurance and retirement benefits, the district would have to cut about $1.4 million next year. He said the district’s budget process was just beginning.

“We’re starting to talk about it amongst the administration team,” he said. “I’m sure Shalee and I will go out and start to talk to staff about ideas where to cut. Right now, everything is on the table. Furloughs, pay cuts, layoffs, it’s all on the table.”

Mellor added that Hicken­looper’s proposed budget still is preliminary and could change, which could alter how much the district would have to cut.

According to the Department of Education figures, the reduction in total program money for Hayden is more than $282,000, or nearly $511 per student. In South Routt, it’s about $478,000, or more than $583 per student.

South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said the district was just starting to create next year’s budget, and he wasn’t sure of the total amount it would have to cut. He said the district would work with administrators and the School Board, in addition to getting input from staff.

Hayden Finance Director Jnl Linsacum said Hayden also was just starting to work on the budget and couldn’t provide the total amount the district would have to cut.

The Hayden and South Routt districts each cut more than $400,000 in this year’s budget.

But officials in both districts said voter-approved property tax increases, or mill levy overrides, would help with next year’s cuts. But like Steamboat, they acknowledged that everything is on the table.

“The mill levy override is saving us right now from massive cuts,” Mader said. “But we’re not out of the woods yet. We’ve got to go through the budget line by line.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or e-mail


Kristopher Hammond 6 years, 3 months ago

Cutting school funding is so much better than raising taxes. I need a new flat-screen TV.


jerry carlton 6 years, 3 months ago

Can we get the superintendent to give her bonus back? Not much but it is a start. The school board knew this was coming when they awarded the bonus.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, the other shoe to drop is the decline in assessed property values which will cut their property tax revenues.


Rob Douglas 6 years, 3 months ago

Those who equate dollars spent with quality of student educational achievement may want to examine the February 10, 2011 testimony of Andrew Coulson, Director, The Cato Institute, Center for Educational Freedom, before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, United States House of Representative.

While that testimony examines "The Impact of Federal Involvement in America's Classrooms," it also presents some interesting statistics on spending vs. achievement.

One key national finding is (see Figure 3 in the linked testimony): "We spent over $151,000 per student sending the graduating class of 2009 through public schools. That is nearly three times as much as we spent on the graduating class of 1970, adjusting for inflation. Despite that massive real spending increase, overall achievement has stagnated or declined, depending on the subject."

As Coulson notes: "In the face of concerted and unflagging efforts by Congress and the states, public schooling has suffered a massive productivity collapse — it now costs three times as much to provide essentially the same education as we provided in 1970...The fact that outcomes have remained flat or declined while spending skyrocketed is a disaster unparalleled in any other field. The only thing it appears to have accomplished is to apply the brakes to the nation's economic growth, by taxing trillions of dollars out of the productive sector of the economy and spending it on ineffective programs."

And yet, time and again, the discussion of education always boils down to how much we spend per pupil. Perhaps, just perhaps, it's time we ask whether we're getting our money's worth when it comes to the quality of education America's children are receiving.

Arguably, we do not.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 3 months ago

Rob, Truly insipid to compare costs now to costs in 1970. If the problem is government then private school costs adjusted for inflation should have been constant, but they have also greatly increased. Private school costs have also exploded and why their tuition has escalated about the same as public school spending per student.

So maybe the education system in the US is not nearly as efficient as in 1970, but that is true for both public and private schools and thus it not proven that it is the fault of government.


Guinevere 6 years, 3 months ago

I don't see much waste in our local schools. What I see is that they are already cut close to the bone. Yes, there needs to be a constant effort to maximize effectiveness and accountability in education dollars spent. But these cuts will be nothing but damaging to our students. Their education not just determines their future but the future of our economy.

Colorado already ranks 40th in the nation in per pupil funding and was recently featured in the Wall Street 24/7 report on "Ten States Running Out of Smart People." "The state went from 11th in average reading scores to 23rd in seven years. Colorado dropped from 8th to 16th in in the portion of the population with a high school degree. The state also had one of the largest decreases in white collar workers per capita."

Hickenlooper is showing very little creativity or foresight in his budget proposals. Businesses are not going to want to move to Colorado when the quality and ranking of our schools is dropping like a stone. Locally we have been luckier than other parts of the state, but we're hardly rolling in the dough.

And the recent bonus to the superintendent, deserving or not, is just embarrassing for the school board. Is she now going to go out and tell a dozen teachers they're losing their jobs after she just took a bonus on top of a $150,000 plus salary and three year contract? Surely the bad PR from this move was not worth the $3,500 bonus.


pitpoodle 6 years, 3 months ago

I have to agree with Rob Douglas and I say go Governor Hickenlooper. Cuts in government have to be made. Period. Quit crying and accept it.


Jeff_Kibler 6 years, 3 months ago

Public school funding? We are all compelled to pay for it. Private school funding? It is funded by means and choice. Until parents can choose where to educate their children via our tax dollars, as opposed to no choice whatsoever, the public education monopoly will just drive us dumber into the dirt.


JustSomeJoe 6 years, 3 months ago

Great link spouting and even sharper analysis Rob Douglas. What's your suggestion for getting our money's worth in education, or are you only prepared to criticize?


Scott Wedel 6 years, 3 months ago

I think it is over dramatic to say that this reduction in spending will destroy public schools. The cuts will be more than waste and will cur some programs.

It has long been recognized there is great societal benefit to public schools because it is far cheaper to teach a kid so that they are likely to have a higher paying job as an adult (and pay more taxes) than to have lots of kids educated only to the level that the parents can afford.

In Colorado, parents can take much of their kids funding into a charter school. Since charter schools have not wiped out public schools then it seems that it is not so easy to educate kids for less than the public schools.


mythreesons 6 years, 3 months ago

With the exception of the flat screen t.v. buyer, everyone who has made a comment, has valid points. As a homeowner in town, I have seen an increase in taxes for education. Is it worth it, yes and no. No, because the state is ranking so low, so what's the point. The state is, however, ranking high among the most active states. Active in what? (Politicking) Yes, because I do want to see kids get a great education. I feel that it's coming to a point where a the parent(s) need to see to the additional education that many may not be getting in the classroom, but at the same time, I see that parents are strapped for even that additional time to do it, with many working 2 jobs just to get by.

As far as the charter schools, it still takes money (from the government), and the kids and parents to create one. Not an easy task. It took a couple of years for the one in North Routt to come to fruition.

I've found that living in Routt county for many years, that as a whole, people are willing to spend money on an extravagant golf course instead a of much needed recreation center, which was shot down, because there already is one. (and not great one at that)

So, now the next time Routt county wants to fund something, it won't be for education, it will be for the "active" status that Colorado has for their "claim to fame". Huh...

PS..To the teachers that spend their own money to teach my children!!


sledneck 6 years, 3 months ago

The above(mythreesons) is a great example of "trade-offs".

There is no escaping the fact that all needs/wants are met by sacraficing other needs/wants.

Sooner or later we have to reconcile with this most basic concept...


Rob Douglas 6 years, 3 months ago

Good piece in Sunday's Denver Post (A smart answer to K-12 cuts? Hike class sizes) on the nonsense folks have been fed for years when it comes to teacher/student ratio. Colorado could save significant money without sacrificing student achievement by increasing the ratio.

As the piece concludes: "If Colorado's average class size, currently 16.8:1, could match Utah's 23.7:1 total, state and local education spending would be over a billion dollars less. Such transformations do not occur overnight, but they at least point us in a more useful direction than the state's historic spending trajectory."


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