Routt County school districts prepare for worst | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County school districts prepare for worst

10 percent could be cut from state K-12 education funding

Jack Weinstein

Steamboat Springs High School teacher Clint Koehler teaches algebra Friday. Local school districts are preparing for budget cuts because of an anticipated 10 percent decrease in state funding.

— As local school districts begin to prepare their 2010-11 school year budgets, they're still not quite sure to what extent statewide K-12 education funding will be cut.

The picture will become clearer after the Colorado Legislature receives a revenue projection in March. But until then, districts are beginning to budget in anticipation of having their statewide funding cut 10 percent.

In addition to less funding from the Education Fund Board, because of decreased Steamboat Springs sales tax revenue and increases in health insurance and retirement benefits, school district officials are finding that trimming budgets won't be an easy task.

The Steamboat Springs Sch­ool District has reported it will have to cut $2 million from the 2010-11 budget because of an estimate of 8 percent, or $1.5 million, less in state funding and a $500,000 reduction in Fund Board gifts.

School Board President Robin Crossan said Superintendent Shalee Cunningham and Finance Director Dale Mellor will provide a budget presentation to board members Monday night. Crossan said she expects the presentation and discussion to last an hour.

Crossan couldn't say last week what the district might cut. She said the School Board could begin discussing that Monday. And Crossan said the goal would be to institute cuts that have the least effect on students and programs.

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"Our goal is to stay as far as possible from the classroom as we can," she said. "But absolutely every line item in the budget, everything, will be looked at."

In the past couple of weeks, the Hayden and South Routt school districts have begun discussing cuts.

Hayden estimates that it will have to cut from $347,000 to more than $526,000 — depending on where the state's reduction in funding falls between 6 and 10 percent next school year. South Routt last week projected having to cut $472,000 in 2010-11 based on an estimated 7.75 percent reduction in funding from the state.

The South Routt School Board has scheduled a special meeting for Monday night to further discuss possible cuts.

When the statewide K-12 cuts were announced in November, they were said to be 6.1 percent, but district officials have said the Colorado Department of Education has warned that they could be as high as 10 percent.

"These numbers aren't final," state Sen. Al White said. "These numbers may change by the time we get a revenue projection in March. And it could be worse."

White, a Hayden Republican and member of the Joint Budget Committee, said the Legislature is working from the December revenue projection.

The proposed 6.1 percent cut represents $260 million of the statewide K-12 appropriation. White said that includes $110 million that school districts statewide were asked to keep in reserve this school year and possibly return to the state. That possibility looks increasingly likely.

As legislators work to close a 2010-11 state budget deficit of $1 billion to $1.4 billion, White said avoiding cuts to K-12 education — 43 percent of Colorado's general fund — was impossible. He said there's no way to close that gap without affecting the biggest piece of the pie.

White said the Legislature would approve Colorado's budget in April. At that time, districts finally will know exactly how much less funding to expect from the state, before they submit preliminary budgets to their school boards in June.

Crossan said Cunningham and Mellor have been meeting with district administration and faculty members for the past few weeks to discuss the 2010-11 budget. She said after Monday's presentation, discussions with district staff, parents and members of the community would follow.

She said until the district learns from the state what it will have to cut next year, it's preparing for the worst.

"We're planning for it now so there are no surprises," Crossan said.

How it works

The annual Oct. 1 student pupil count determines the amount of state and local share of the total program funding each Colorado public school district receives. Per-pupil funding starts at a base of $5,507.68 for the 2009-10 school year, and additional funding is determined by evaluating factors such as cost of living, district size and at-risk student population.

According to the Colorado Depart­ment of Education, Routt County’s school districts’ estimated per-pupil funding from the state for 2009-10 is:

■ $8,819.28 in Hayden

■ $7,239.77 in Steamboat Springs

■ $9,090.44 in South Routt.

This school year, the state share of total program funding is projected to be nearly 65 percent. The rest is paid by the local share, which includes property and vehicle registration taxes.

In Colorado, Amendment 23 requires that K-12 per-pupil funding increase annually by the rate of inflation plus 1 percent. Amendment 23 applies only to the base per-pupil funding, not the additional factors that increase each district’s total revenues.

In order to cut education spending while also following the mandate of Amendment 23, state lawmakers are looking to decrease the funding allocated to districts via those three additional factors — cost of living, district size and at-risk student population.