School District 51 looks at budget cut of $775,000


District 51 enrollment

Not all students are full-time, which explains the fractions in School District 51’s enrollment numbers. Students are counted as half of a full-time-equivalent student if they attend high school part-time. Meanwhile, kindergarteners are counted as 0.58 of a student.

By October 2008, District 51 counted 21,041.8 full-time-equivalent students. This year, its count is 20,923.3 full-time-equivalent students.

School District 51 will have to re-evaluate its budget and cut approximately $775,000 after its Sept. 25 enrollment count showed it has fewer students than last school year.

Each school district in Colorado receives funding based on student population, among other factors. District 51 counted 66 fewer full-time-equivalent students in 2009 than last year.

Because the district must share some of its funding with the charter school Independence Academy and Valley Vision School, a program for home-schooled students, its funding for the 2009-10 school year will essentially drop by the equivalent of 118.5 students from last year’s count.

That leaves District 51 with 20,923.3 full-time-equivalent students for state funding. And it means the district will have to cut about $775,000 from its $156.2 million budget, according to District 51 Student Services Executive Director Melissa Callahan DeVita.

District 51, like all Colorado school districts, already had to set aside a portion of its budget in a fiscal emergency reserve fund in case the state Legislature declared a fiscal emergency and needed to recall the money. Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction already has said that money will likely go back to the state. The Legislature has until the end of January to recall the reserved money, which totals $2.78 million for District 51.

Callahan DeVita said the district enrollment stayed relatively flat compared with more dramatic swings in some nearby communities where cutbacks in oil and gas operations led to people moving away from those towns.

“There are districts in this area that are down much more,” she told the District 51 school board at its meeting Tuesday night.

Although some schools got relief in overcrowding, others gained students. Chipeta Elementary has 50 more students than last year, and growth was recorded at Pear Park, Chipeta and Orchard Avenue elementary schools. Some kindergarten students who live in Nisley Elementary boundaries were assigned to Fruitvale Elementary to alleviate crowding this fall.

Central High School is 186 students over capacity, while R-5 High and Grand Junction High School are three and four seats below capacity, respectively.

“The bottom line is we’re still busting at the seams,” school board president Leslie Kiesler said.

Superintendent Steve Schultz said the figures surprised him.

“This is hardly a change at all, given (local) unemployment numbers,” he said.

The board did not discuss where and how to cut or rearrange the budget to make up for the $775,000 shortfall. Tuesday’s meeting was a work meeting, meaning board members discussed items but made no formal decisions on them. Decisions are reserved for business meetings, the next of which will be Oct. 20.


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