South Routt School District working toward balanced 2016-17 budget | SteamboatToday.com

South Routt School District working toward balanced 2016-17 budget

Fourth-grade students listen during a music class at South Routt Elementary in November.

— South Routt School District leaders appear close to finalizing a balanced $6.8 million budget for the 2016-17 school year.

Board of Education members Tuesday night held a work session to review the latest proposed budget and offer feedback to district administrators.

The district is forecasting a headcount of 21 fewer students next year, down to 305 pupils, but it will take advantage of an averaging mechanism that allows districts to lessen the burden of decreasing enrollment.

Based on a five-year average, the district will collect funding for 349 pupils.

Preliminary numbers suggest state per-pupil funding for South Routt will go up to $10,057 next year, thanks to an overall increase in allocated state funding and favorable changes in the state funding formula on how the size of a district, the number of personnel and the cost of living impact the money given.

This year, the district collected $9,733 per student.

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Board members Tuesday asked questions about the budget, including costs associated with the district's new preschool program and changes to the staffing level for the gifted and talented program.

At the district's Soroco Preschool at Yampa, families are currently charged $30 per student per day, an amount that the district plans to raise to $40 per day next year.

District leaders still expect the program to operate at a $25,000 annual loss next year but consider it a worthwhile program to backfill for now.

"It's probably money well spent in terms of early education," said Mark Rydberg, district finance director.

Board members and district administrators discussed the careful balancing act of raising the preschool rate a small amount to help cover costs without raising it too high to push families away.

"Hooking families into our school district at that very early age is crucial," said Randy Foster, South Routt Elementary principal.

The Yampa preschool aims to draw in parents with a wider range of hours than many other preschool programs in the county — open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and with low costs.

Board members also asked for more information regarding a proposed reduction in staffing for the gifted and talented program from the current year to the upcoming year.

The district's GT coordinator was previously compensated through a stipend until last year, when the district expanded the role to a larger part-time position.

Aiming to keep a balanced budget, Superintendent Darci Mohr said the district is considering returning to the stipend model, something the board sought more information on Tuesday.

"We took steps this year to get a good GT program up and running," said board president Jules Palyo. "I'd like to see more information on how the program will change under the proposed budget."

Mohr plans to return to the board with more information at its next meeting later in May.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow