Educational services provider asks school districts for funds | SteamboatToday.com

Educational services provider asks school districts for funds

BOCES faces a nearly $317,000 deficit in its 2008-09 budget

— The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services has a nearly $317,000 deficit in its 2008-09 budget and is asking its member districts to pick up the tab.

BOCES told Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school officials last month that it did not collect appropriate fees for the services it provided during the 2008-09 school year. It also told the districts that costs for services this year were going up by a total of more than $382,000.

Hayden Superintendent Greg Rockhold said his first thought was, “Are you kidding me?”

“I was very, very shocked,” he said. “I was very taken aback that all the planning for this year was thrown out the window with that news.”

Northwest Colorado BOCES is a cooperative agency that provides state-mandated services for special education to six regional school districts. It also provides a number of additional shared services and resources for those districts.

“It’s a pretty tough position as BOCES is dependent on the school districts for funding,” BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker said. “We don’t have any reserves left. Those are depleted.”

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With 2010 school district budgets already set and pending approval later this year, Rockhold, other superintendents and district finance staff said finding additional money may prove challenging or even impossible.

Dale Mellor, finance director for the Steamboat Springs School District, said he wouldn’t even know where to look for that money in the district’s budget. He said it would be difficult to cut from a budget in which 86 percent of the general fund covers staff salaries and benefits.

“It’s not that we don’t want to help the BOCES out,” Mellor said. “Times are tough. For the district to come up with that money, for all the districts to come up with that money, it’s going to be difficult.”

Toothaker said several factors contributed to the under-assessments. She said there were delays in reimbursements from the state and assessments below actual costs. And Toothaker said she was not getting correct information to make financial decisions.

“I wasn’t getting good financial information internally,” she said. “Now I have a new finance director and feel like I’m getting good information. We’ve worked very hard over the last six months to figure out our problems with cash flow and come up with solutions for the board and superintendents. Now we can figure out what solution best fits everyone.”

Toothaker declined to elaborate about BOCES’ previous finance director, citing personnel issues.

When the BOCES board of directors, which includes a representative from each district’s school board, meets Thursday, it will again discuss how to address its budget deficit from last year and the increased fees for this year. The numbers will be lower than what was presented last month because those figures included dollars to provide BOCES with reserves.

School districts pay BOCES twice annually, on Oct. 15 and May 1. Rockhold said he doesn’t know how the district can afford to pay what BOCES is asking.

“To pay back the BOCES for their accounting errors would create an incredible hardship for the Hayden schools,” Rockhold said.

Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt all said they would consider eliminating some services they receive from BOCES, with the exception of state-mandated special education and implementing their own programs. But South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said the services provided by BOCES to the district are essential, such as its operation of the South Routt Early Learning Center in Yampa. He said paying for BOCES’ under-assessment of services 2008-09 and increased fees for this year would be a “difficult blow to the district’s finances,” but district officials may not have a choice.

“We have to provide those services to students, and they have to be paid for,” he said. “If we have to, we have to.”

Toothaker said BOCES’ focus was to get through this tough time to be financially healthy again.

“We’ll continue to have a discussion about how to work out this issue,” Toothaker said. This is a cooperative educational agency, and we need to come up with a cooperative solution.”