Provision to funding law gives buffer to Routt County districts |

Provision to funding law gives buffer to Routt County districts

Hayden, South Routt feel less of a pinch despite enrollment drops

Jack Weinstein

Ty Zabel addresses his history class earlier this fall at Hayden High School. Despite a total student enrollment decrease from last year of 18 students districtwide, Hayden will receive state funding for only eight fewer students.

— A provision in Colorado's school funding law has allowed the Hayden and South Routt school districts to stay financially healthy despite having fewer students this year.

The state's Public School Finance Act formula determines the amount of funding districts receive based on the number of students they serve. Hence, a decline in enrollment typically means less funding for a district.

That's the primary reason why districts are so attuned to the state's Oct. 1 official pupil count day. The number of students enrolled Oct. 1 often is the number of students a district will get funding for for the school year.

In Routt County, Hayden's enrollment decreased by 18 students this year, and South Routt has 26 fewer students. Steamboat is the only district to increase enrollment this year, gaining 81 students.

But the state doesn't provide equal funding for all students. Instead, districts are funded by the number of full-time equivalent students they have. As an example, kindergartners are funded at a rate that is 58 percent of what districts receive for students in grades one through 12. The reason is that the state only provides for half-day kindergarten. So, the number of full-time equivalent students a district is credited for is less than the number of actual students it has in its classrooms.

Both Hayden and South Routt have more than 20 fewer full-time equivalent students this year than last. But instead of losing the associated funding for those students, the districts are using a provision in the finance formula that allows them to average their student enrollments from this year and as many as the four previous school years.

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By using the average, Hayden is being funded for only eight fewer full-time equivalent students this year, and South Routt is being funded for only six fewer students than last year.

"We're getting funding for students we don't have because of averaging," Hayden Finance Director Jnl Linsacum said.

Linsacum said because Hayden budgeted for an enrollment decline, the district was financially prepared for fewer students.

That isn't the case in South Routt. Dina Murray, South Routt's finance director, said the district didn't budget for an enrollment decline.

"We went into the (Oct. 1 pupil) count thinking 'Uh-oh, we should have projected something,'" she said. "We look at this as flat. We feel fortunate to be where we are."

Like Hayden, Steamboat Springs Finance Director Dale Mellor said he projected an enrollment decline, budgeting for 10 fewer students. Instead, Steamboat has 81 more students this year. That equates to 49.5 more full-time equivalent students.

"It gives us extra money to look at increasing staff salaries … and hire back some of the positions we eliminated last year," Mellor said.

The Collaborative Barg­aining Team, which negotiates faculty and staff salaries for the Steamboat Springs School District, agreed last spring to not institute a salary step increase or a cost of living adjustment for employees for the 2010-11 school year.

The agreement was based on the assumption that student enrollment, and therefore revenue, would remain flat or decrease. However, the bargaining team agreed to revisit the terms of the deal after the Oct. 1 pupil count.

With the influx of students, the district has additional funding to the tune of $400,000. It has restored some staff positions and is in a position to give raises to faculty and staff.

The Steamboat Springs Education Association, the district's teachers union, approved a proposal to provide salary step increases to eligible faculty and staff members. The bargaining team will take the proposal Monday to the School Board for consideration.

By the numbers

Routt County school district student enrollments

District 2010-11 2009-10 Percent change

Hayden 420 438 – 4.1 percent

South Routt 409 435 – 6 percent

Steamboat 2,233 2,152 3.8 percent