Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night unanimously signed off on a $60,000 loan to retire a longstanding budget deficit at the North Routt Community Charter School.
The small charter school in Clark had been running with a budget shortfall greater than $51,000 for the last eight years, in violation of state statute.
Steamboat Finance Director Dale Mellor said low enrollment numbers at the campus in 2004 created a debt of about $112,000.
“Fast forward to today, and that $112,000 has been chipped away slowly and surely down to $60,000,” Mellor told the School Board. “This loan is our solution to doing something about it. It gets them out of the deficit and the state gets off of our back.”
The charter school receives its per-pupil state funding through the Steamboat Springs School District. The charter school technically is part of the Steamboat district.
Mellor said the state auditor each year sends an admonishing letter to the district informing it of the deficit and asking how it will be eliminated.
School Board members agreed the district should help retire the debt, but many weren't comfortable with the district's original proposal to grant the zero-interest loan without a repayment schedule.
“We have a responsibility to our taxpayers,” board member Denise Connelly said before she advocated for revising the agreement to state the charter school should repay a minimum of $5,000 a year.
Board member Robin Crossan said she wanted to see an end date added to the loan.
But Mellor said it would be difficult to predict how much of the loan the charter school could afford to repay each year.
Instead of outlining a specific repayment schedule, the School Board agreed to approve the loan with the power to revisit it on an annual basis.
The school district originally proposed to offer the charter school the loan without any repayment date.
Speaking before the vote, charter school director Colleen Poole said she considers the $60,000 deficit separate from the school's annual budget.
“We are not overextending our budget ever year,” she said, adding the school had been chipping away at the shortfall each school year until this one. “It's just very hard because we don't have a lot of excess monies that are saved up to pay this down.”
Mellor said the charter school reduced the deficit to $51,000 last year, but expenses associated with the move into a new building bumped it back up to $60,000.
The charter school's new $3.8 million facility opened in January and was constructed after the charter school received a $3.2 million Building Excellent Schools Today grant from Colorado’s Capital Construction Assistance Program. Remaining funds came from the Steamboat Springs School District, the Gates Family Foundation and a $500,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
The charter school currently has 69 students enrolled, but Poole said more are expected at the campus that can now accommodate about 100 students.
“I anticipate we will grow,” she said. “We always tend to grow through the year.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com