School finance bill aims to halt another round of cuts to public education
April 25, 2012
By the numbers
State funding per student
District, Current, HB-1345, Change
Steamboat Springs, $6,467.04, $6,456.99, -$10.05
Hayden, $8,193.25, $8,360.90, +167.65
South Rout, $8,421.15, $8,469.97, +48.82
Source: Colorado Department of Education
Steamboat Springs — Routt County school district officials breathed a sigh of relief this week after a bill that would stop cuts to K-12 education cleared the state House, but the educators were quick to remember that state funding still is far less than it was four years ago.
"Any little help we can get is certainly a relief," South Routt Finance Director Dina Murray said. "We certainly are glad we're not looking at the cuts we have seen in past years. But at this point, we hate to celebrate because a lot can happen between now" and the time the budget is finalized.
If passed by the state Senate, House Bill 1345 in its current form would increase total program funding to public schools by $57 million next school year to essentially keep state funding at its current level, according to a news release from the Colorado House Republicans. The bill easily was approved by the House on Tuesday.
According to figures provided by the Colorado Department of Education, the Steamboat Springs School District would lose about $10 per student under the bill, the Hayden School District would gain about $167 per student, and the South Routt School District would gain about $49 per student.
The change in per-pupil funding at each district is dependent on the number of economically disadvantaged students, the district's size and cost of living, among other things.
Despite the slight cut his school district would see from HB-1345, Steamboat Finance Director Dale Mellor called the bill a positive step.
"I think it's great," he said "It'd be nice if the finance formula was going up, but this is better than the massive cuts we've had for the past four years. I really kind of thought this bill would fall apart."
Mellor estimated the bill's passage would result in a cut of about $23,000 for his district. He noted that's far less than the $1.8 million Steamboat trimmed from its budget for this school year and from previous cuts that stemmed from the nationwide recession.
Although South Routt is projected to receive more state dollars for each of its students, Murray estimated her school district still would lose about $18,000 in state program funding even with the increase in per-pupil funding.
"We still look at that (cut) as pretty flat," Murray said.
South Routt's budget has been cut by an average of $250,000 each of the past three years.
Steamboat Springs School Board President Brian Kelly said level funding next school year likely would allow his school district to take some of its programs off the chopping block, but not all of them.
"There are too many costs that still are going up in price," he said, referring to the increasing cost of district contributions to its employees' public pension funds, fuel and energy bills and health insurance. The $10 cut per student "quite honestly isn't the end of the world one way or another. More concerning is you have the increased cost of (pensions) and your energy costs and health insurance. The hard reality of it is if (level funding) happens again next year, we'll be at 96 percent budget next year."
Steamboat administrators are expected to meet next week and put together a preliminary budget recommendation to present to the School Board on May 7.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com