Routt County school districts brace for cuts | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County school districts brace for cuts

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

Jack Weinstein

— 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.

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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 jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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

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