School busing falls to budget cuts

School Board members sliced $5.76 million from District 51’s 2012-13 budget in June, bringing the four-year total for budget reductions in the district to $34.4 million.

Unlike past years, this round of budget alterations was not driven by state revenue reductions. As with all Colorado school districts, District 51 was required by law to increase its contributions to PERA employee retirement funds this year.

It also had to cover an anticipated decrease of 62 full-time students because enrollment determines how much money the state gives districts each year, and money had to be added to keep the district’s capital budget whole after surplus money filled in that budget hole in 2011-12.

Those reductions accounted for $2.7 million of this year’s budget deficit. Another $2.7 million was required to cover experience-based pay increases for all employees except for Superintendent Steve Schultz. Another $607,000 was needed to restore one of five furlough days to become an additional school day on Feb. 18. The $240,000 difference between reductions and budget needs was covered by reserves.

Budget reductions included increasing the walking radius for elementary school students from one mile to two miles and increasing the walking radius for middle and high school students from two miles to three miles. The change helped eliminate 16 busing routes to save an estimated $650,000. District 51’s school board also eliminated 41 classroom and support positions, many through attrition, eliminated four district executive positions, increased athletic fees, and eliminated the Leadership for Education, Achievement and Graduation (LEAG) program for minority and at-risk students, among other actions.

The cuts received mixed reviews. A budget oversight committee of 19 citizens picked by the school board to examine the budget and make suggestions recommended a busing fee, as did a citizen group called Save Our Students. The group also asked the board to reconsider a decision made in March to forgo a calendar switch to a four-day school week. The results of polling at four community budget forums between Feb. 9 and March 5 and an online survey showed preference for a four-day week, which could save an estimated $1.5 million. The district is weighing options for a four-day week in future years.


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