Budget cuts mean district forced to trim

District 51 officials are looking for areas to shave $2.3 million from the district’s 2009–10 budget in the wake of proposed cuts to K–12 education that were released last week by Gov. Bill Ritter.

The largest hit will come from a proposal to roll back the cost-of-living factor to 2000-01 levels, meaning a loss of $1.9 million for District 51, said Melissa Callahan deVita, director of support services for the district.

The cost-of-living factor, enacted with the Public School Finance Act of 1994, is an index that is recalculated every two years and is unique to the costs of housing, goods and services in each school district in Colorado.

Callahan deVita said the District 51 avoided a $4 million loss under an initial proposal that would have reduced the average per-pupil state funding to the 14 lowest-funded districts in the state, which includes District 51.

“At that point, we began calling people stating our case because that didn’t seem fair to us,” she said.

The district will lose $415,000 under Ritter’s proposal to eliminate the $19.72 per student that was added to the per-pupil-funding formula last year, and it will lose some state grants, including $90,000 to aid the instruction of high-needs students.

Ritter’s proposed cuts also eliminate more than 50 preschool slots in District 51, Callahan deVita said, which equates to $350,000.

“Not all preschool is going away,” she said. “But I’m not sure how we will deal with that.”

Almost 70 percent of the district’s budget goes to classroom instruction, Callahan deVita said, with the next largest expense being salaries and benefits.

Callahan deVita said the district is in a stable financial position thanks to a 5 percent cushion of revenues over expenditures built up since 2003. But administrators are in the process of reviewing the budget to find where spending can be trimmed, she said.

“It’s gonna have to come out of somewhere, and I don’t know where at this point,” she said.

When District 51 cut spending in the past, Callahan deVita said, maintenance and textbook spending were axed.

Callahan deVita said she is looking into where the district can cut travel expenses and where contract services can be renegotiated.

The “only saving grace,” Callahan deVita said, is if the district takes on more students to increase per-pupil funding, similar to the recent winter break when the district gained 120 students. Because of the spiraling economy, the district is seeing an increase in students coming from struggling families and even families who have lost homes, Callahan deVita said.

“Those are students with high needs,” she said, “and that costs more money.”

Falling home values won’t affect the district’s budget, even though 28 percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes.

Callahan deVita said the funding model requires the state to increase its portion of money going to the district if local property-tax revenue falls.

Callahan deVita said the district will put on its Web site a link for community input on the budget process, and it will present the state’s proposed cuts to the board of education during its Feb. 10 meeting.

“The goal is in eight weeks to hammer this stuff out,” she said. “We want to be very transparent so that everyone understands the tough decisions we have to make.”


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