Budget talk pulls crowd of about 30
Lightest turnout yet in series of school forums
Monday afternoon’s School District 51 community budget forum was the most sparsely attended forum in a series of four budget meetings hosted by the school district in the past month.
About 30 people participated in the meeting, which took place at 3:30 p.m. at Mount Garfield Middle School. The other three forums took place at 6 p.m. on Thursdays in February at Bookcliff and Redlands middle schools and Grand Junction High School. The district chose an earlier start time to accommodate requests from people who said they could not attend the later forums, according to District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland.
Unlike the other meetings, which had roughly 60, 100 and 175 attendees, questions were more plentiful than suggestions at Monday’s forum. The suggestion to cut administration jobs or salaries, an oft-repeated refrain at other forums, only came up once at the Mount Garfield forum. Still, district officials were prepared and introduced a new slide about administration in the Power Point presented at each forum.
The slide mentions the district spends $2.9 million on administration salaries and benefits for 31.13 full-time equivalent employees, with an average salary of $74,526. District 51 administrator salaries and benefits, which are determined by a market study, account for 7.3 percent of total District 51 salaries and benefits, three-tenths of a percentage point below the average for Colorado’s 18 largest school districts.
“Administration will be reduced to help balance the budget,” District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita said.
The majority of parents, district employees and citizens who voted in electronic polling at the meetings said they would support a four-day school week and more than half said they would prefer a four-day week to the current five-day week school calendar. Also at each meeting, fewer than half of audience members said they wished to eliminate funding for district athletics or extra-curricular activities, but the idea of increasing fees for those activities got support from 80 percent or more of attendees at each forum.
Monday’s audience differed from the other forum attendees on two other issues, though: school closures and transportation. With 50 percent in favor, Monday’s audience was the most likely of the four forum audiences to support extending the distance for elementary school busing. And while at least 88 percent of audience members at the other forums supported the idea of charging for busing, that idea garnered 77 percent support at Monday’s forum.
With 65 percent support, Monday’s audience was also the first to have more than half of attendees vote in favor of closing a school to help balance the budget, an idea that got support from only 16 percent of people who attended a Feb. 16 forum and 12 percent support at a Feb. 23 forum.
A citizen budget advisory committee will use information gleaned from the forums to inform its report to the School Board next month on ways the committee believes the district should or could cut budget costs or make the budget more efficient.