School district budget forums begin Thursday

School District 51 will begin a series of community budget forums at 6 p.m. Thursday in Bookcliff Middle School’s cafeteria.

All community members are invited to attend the forums, where they can offer written and spoken suggestions for the 2012–13 District 51 budget. The district is seeking suggestions about potential budget cuts, ways to save money, and opinions about potential budget cuts. The district is waiting to hear if the state will cut its contribution to Colorado school districts through the state education funding formula for a fourth consecutive year in 2012–13, and contributions to PERA retirement accounts are expected to cost the district nearly $1 million more next year.

District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said the district will provide information and handouts explaining the district’s budget process and ask questions about specific budget topics.

Kirtland said forum attendees will be asked to keep their comments short “so we can hear from everyone.”

“We will collect and sort any and all ideas and bring those to the budget committee,” Kirtland said, referring to a newly formed citizen committee that will make budget suggestions to the District 51 School Board this spring.

Committee members and School Board members may be among those in attendance at the meetings, Kirtland said. Superintendent Steve Schultz and District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita are expected to attend the forums. Former Rocky Mountain Health Plans Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins will facilitate each forum meeting.

Handouts will be available for each table but not for each person. Handouts also will be available on the district’s website.

Unlike the city of Grand Junction’s listening tour in May and June 2010, which aimed to gather public opinion about a potential public safety center, Kirtland said the district did not hire consultants to shape the forum process or analyze public opinion. The district’s meeting also will forgo refreshments.

“We can’t afford that,” Kirtland said.

The district did pay consultants George K. Baum & Co. $48,000 last year to formulate a mill levy override question aimed at helping the budget. The measure failed in the Nov. 1 election.

Additional forum sessions will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 at Grand Junction High School’s library and at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at Redlands Middle School in the cafeteria. Each forum will last an estimated 90 minutes.



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