Bill would preserve funds for small school districts

A bill being considered in the House Education Committee could freeze funding for small school districts for five years.

House Bill 1015 would create a pilot program for school districts with fewer than 2,000 students. The state would fund districts that choose to participate in the program at 2009-10 levels from fall 2010 through spring 2015.

Using September 2009 student counts, 134 out of 183 Colorado school districts would qualify for the pilot program, including De Beque 49JT and Collbran-based Plateau Valley 50. The bill likely would take $500,000 to $5.1 million to implement in 2010-11 and $600,000 to $7.8 million to implement the year after that, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

Losing even a handful of students can cost a small district a large chunk of its budget.

De Beque Superintendent Marty Lucas said his 160-student school district will count 11 fewer students for 2010-11 funding. Without the pilot program, the district’s funding will drop. On top of that, the state plans to cut $260 million from school districts across the state this fall.

“It does look like there might be some potential (in the bill) to help us,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he anticipates not gaining any students over the next five years unless oil and gas activity picks up in the area. If the student population increased, the district would receive additional funding only if there is a statewide education funding increase or the increase is a certain percentage above the 2009-10 pupil count. That percentage has not yet been written into the bill.

A district’s funding could decrease if the student population drops a certain percentage from the 2009-10 student count.

Plateau Valley Superintendent Greg Randall said he’s not sure how feasible it would be to sign on to a requirement of the bill that would make a participating school district sign an agreement with at least one other participating school district to share services and costs. Those may include administrative, food, transportation, health, special education, maintenance, custodial, teaching and learning-intervention services.

“On the Western Slope, the closest district to us is De Beque, and that’s a 45-minute drive,” Randall said, adding the two districts do share some services already.

Randall said he hasn’t discussed the bill with administration or school board members and hasn’t had enough time with the bill to form an opinion of it. Lucas said he wanted to wait to see a final version of the bill before endorsing it.


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