BOCES board hears possible solutions | SteamboatToday.com

BOCES board hears possible solutions

Measures would address overspending and increased assessments

Jack Weinstein

The board of directors for the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services didn’t take action Monday night to address overspending $317,000 in its $4.1 million 2008-09 budget. Nor did it take action on the increased assessments of more than $481,000 that BOCES asked its member districts to pay this year.

But BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker told board members in Granby about a possible solution to pay last year’s under-assessments. She also proposed preliminary budget cuts that could be implemented this year in lieu of asking the districts to pay the increased assessments.

Toothaker said the Colorado Department of Education indicated to BOCES that it could use $273,000 in federal stimulus funding for special education to address the overspending. She said the remainder would be filled by $44,000 in contributions from the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts for services BOCES provides for the Day Treatment program, a service for at-risk students.

After it settles the $317,000 in excess spending, Toothaker said the agency would be able to pay the districts the more than $777,000 in federal title funding it owes them. The funding is funneled from the federal level to BOCES and then to the districts, but BOCES has been using that money to pay staff.

BOCES should know in the next week to 10 days whether it could dedicate that stimulus funding to address the deficit, Toothaker said. If it can’t rely on that funding, she said it would again return to the districts and ask them to pay for the under-assessment.

Several superintendents at Monday’s meeting said they didn’t think they should pay for BOCES’ increased assessments.

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Nancy Karas, superintendent at East Grand School District, said her district cut $580,000 last year and $300,000 this year. She added that the district expected to make cuts again next year.

“To see a 12 percent BOCES budget increase,” Karas said about the jump in its budget the past two years, “I don’t believe we’re in a position financially to support BOCES.”

BOCES revealed at its board meeting last month that it had overspent last year’s budget and would need to increase assessments this year. The presentation indicated that the districts would have to pick up the tab for the under-assessments and fork over more money to cover the increases, which raised the 2009-10 budget to $4.7 million.

BOCES is a cooperative agency that provides state-mandated special education services to six school districts. It also provides other services not required by the state.

Since the agency revealed its overspending, district superintendents have been working together and with Toothaker to identify solutions that wouldn’t force the districts to pay for what they can’t afford. The districts’ budgets have been set pending final approval in January.

“I consider the stage we’re in right now as a fact-finding stage, to find out what happened in ’07-’08 and ’08-’09,” Steamboat Springs Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said. She added that it would take time, but they were approaching some solutions.

With possible solutions identified, some board members seemed confused about how BOCES ended up in financial trouble.

Brian Hoza, president of the BOCES board, said it was unclear what led to the agency’s financial troubles. Board member Laura Anderson said she still didn’t know how BOCES spent its reserves, what they were spent on and how the board didn’t know about it.

Toothaker said Tuesday that she told the board in September that she was not receiving correct information internally to make financial decisions and that BOCES was delayed in receiving reimbursements from the state and had assessed services below costs. But Toothaker acknowledged that there still might be questions.

The superintendents plan to get together with Toothaker today in a closed-door meeting to discuss what cuts BOCES can make in its 2009-10 budget. The superintendents have said they would like the entire $481,000 in increased assessments eliminated. The BOCES board directed Toothaker to proceed with recommendations for cuts and changes to the budget after the meeting.

Toothaker also told board members that she would meet with officials from the Colorado Department of Education on Friday to review BOCES’ financials. She has been asked to provide financial information from April through June of 2007, from 2008-09 and 2009-10. That information includes bank statements, receipts and expenditure reports.

The BOCES board convenes next for a special meeting Oct. 28 in Steamboat, when it will review the budget cuts implemented by BOCES. Toothaker said she hopes to present a revised budget to the board for approval at the Nov. 12 meeting in Hayden.