District 51 may have to cut budget by $5 million

School District 51’s potential cuts in state support for next year’s budget have doubled in a month, highlighting Colorado’s grim and swiftly changing economic picture.

The Daily Sentinel reported at the beginning of February that the district could lose as much as $2.3 million as part of a $70 million proposed reduction in support from the state to districts across Colorado.

The Joint Budget Committee for the state Legislature amended that figure Friday to
$125 million, said Melissa Callahan deVita, executive director of support services for District 51.

The loss to the district for the 2009–2010 budget could be closer to $5 million.

“The state situation continues to get worse,” Callahan deVita said. “As the state goes, so do we.”

Amendment 23 requires inflation plus 1 percent increase in education funding. A higher inflation figure this year is sending more money to schools, Callahan deVita said, but that means cuts are coming from other places.

Since the initial budget recommendations were released by the state in February, Callahan deVita said, several district committees have met and compiled lists of places to trim spending.

No decisions have been made, Callahan deVita said, but some of the recommendations have included changing bus routes to save fuel costs, instituting mandatory furlough days and moving to four-day school weeks.

“If every employee took one furlough day, that would equate to $518,000 to the district’s benefit,” she said.

But, Callahan deVita said, the possibility of layoffs has not been discussed, nor does the district think it will have to resort to that.

Colorado is set to receive $760 million from the federal stimulus package and $110 million in Title I funds, which are meant for schools with high percentages of students from lower socioeconomic statuses, according to a figure-setting report for the Department of Education released by the Joint Budget Committee.

District 51 should see about $7 million over two years in federal stimulus, Callahan deVita said, but half of the money is restricted for use in special education and the other half is restricted to Title I schools.

Callahan deVita said she doesn’t want that money used for staff in those areas because the money will be gone in two years, which would likely force those hired with that money to be let go.

“I don’t want to get those people in positions, ingrained in the community and moving kids forward, then in two years have to say, ‘Oh, see ya,’ ” she said.

A potential perfect storm is brewing as well for the 2011–12 budget cycle, Callahan deVita said.

That will be the year the federal stimulus dollars, Referendum C and the provision in Amendment 23 requiring the additional 1 percent end.

Amendment 23 will still guarantee at least an inflationary increase in education funding.

Referendum C is a timeout to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights that allows the state to retain certain tax surpluses above spending limits.

“Funding is going to get even tighter,” Callahan deVita said. “I’ve heard it likened to falling off a funding cliff.”

The latest proposed cuts could change as the state Legislature hammers out the budget, and the district wouldn’t have a final figure for state support until May.

After that, the district must have its 2009–10 budget ready for adoption in June.


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