Local school districts bracing for budgetary woes | SteamboatToday.com

Local school districts bracing for budgetary woes

South Routt School Board will meet tonight to discuss 2010-11 budget cuts

Jack Weinstein

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to clarify that South Routt’s numbers reflect an expected 7.75 percent reduction in state funding and that South Routt’s salary and benefits account for 70 percent of the district’s general fund.

Routt County's school districts are preparing for the worst.

With expected cuts to public K-12 education statewide, the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts are planning for a significant reduction in expenditures for the 2010-11 school year.

Steamboat has said it will have to cut about $2 million from next school year's budget, an amount equal to about 10 percent of the 2009-10 general fund budget of $22 million. Hayden and South Routt are projecting similar percentage cuts to their budgets.

Last week, Hayden revealed that cuts in 2010-11 could exceed $526,000. South Routt last week presented a preliminary shortfall next school year of $472,000. Both districts have total general fund budgets of a little more than $5 million.

Hayden and South Routt district officials also have indicated the possibility of going to voters in November for a mill levy override to generate additional revenues that would help make up for the expected shortfalls. In South Routt, an override would generate more than $170,000 a year. In Hayden, it would generate more than $310,000 annually.

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Hayden’s projection is based on a 10 percent cut in statewide funding, and South Routt's reflects a 7.75 percent cut. When first announced, the cuts were said to be 6.1 percent, but Colorado Department of Education officials have told districts the cuts could be as high as 10 percent next school year and 20 percent during the next three years.

Hayden is projecting to lose more than $360,000 in funding from the state, and South Routt is projecting a loss of about $276,000.

Steamboat's estimated $2 million shortfall includes an 8 percent reduction in funding from the state — totaling about $1.5 million — and a $500,000 reduction in gifts from the Education Fund Board, Finance Director Dale Mellor said Monday.

The statewide cuts are compounded by each district anticipating significant increases in the cost of health and retirement insurance for faculty and staff.

The South Routt School Board will meet for a special meeting to begin discussing 2010-11 budget measures at 7 p.m. today at the district administrative offices in Oak Creek.

Dina Murray, the district's business manager, said Monday that the priorities for tonight's meeting include establishing the 2010-11 fund balance, which currently is projected at more than $1.1 million. The district has to decide whether to dip into those reserves next school year to help make up for the shortfall.

She said the district also will begin to discuss where to cut from first. Murray said the preliminary shortfall was the full budget, with the exception of salary increases and didn't reflect any possible cuts. It's a place for the district to start, she said.

Murray said it's too early to say whether cuts would include faculty and staff, but the district's salary and benefits are 70 percent of the general fund.

"Everything's on the table right now," she said. "I can't say we're leaning one way or the other right now. We have to look at everything and what's best for our district and our students."

By comparison, salary and benefits for Steamboat and Hayden take up between 75 and 80 percent of general fund expenditures.

Last week, Hayden High School Principal Troy Zabel, during a presentation to the School Board about the district's new budget committee, said there's not a lot of fluff in the district's budget.

"When you're talking about reductions, you're talking about people," Zabel said.

In addition to the possibility of a mill levy override, Murray said South Routt might discuss furlough days for faculty and staff, increasing student fees or reducing programs.

She said tonight's meeting also would include a timeline for continued budget discussions.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@steamboatpilot.com.

If you go

What: South Routt School Board special meeting to discuss budget cuts

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: District administrative offices, 305 S. Grant St. in Oak Creek