East Grand District eyes reserves to balance budget

Tonya Bina

The East Grand School District is planning to dip into its reserves by $467,000 to balance the 2013 fiscal-year budget.

In a draft form of the budget, with a final document due to be presented to the East Grand School Board on June 19, the nearly half-million-dollar general-fund shortfall is proposed to be filled by pulling it out of the district’s $3.1 million reserve.

Emphasis on support of the district’s staff, which makes up 80.2 percent of the district’s general fund expenditures, was the main thrust impacting the 2013 budget, as well as a projected $468,000 in lost revenue from state and federal sources.

The district board approved a 1.2 percent cost of living increase to all staff members in the district, on top of one step-increase in salary levels.

The decision ends a three-year cost-of-living freeze on employee salaries and a two-year step freeze, according to East Grand Superintendent Nancy Karas. The salary budget items reflect a 3 percent overall increase, costing the district about $240,000.

The continuation of added support staff also impacts the East Grand budget. The district will now be picking up the tab for literacy and English Language Learners counselors, who before were funded through state grants and through a grant from Mountain Parks Electric of Granby. In speaking with faculty, board members learned the academic support the counselors have provided has become indispensable, according to Karas.

“It’s taken pressure off of the classroom,” she said.

Another budget decision is the addition of two teachers at Granby Elementary School to “reduce class sizes,” Karas said. Class sizes have been as high as 27 to 28 students per room. With two additional teachers, sizes should be reduced to 16 to 23 students per classroom, she said. The budget also accounts for more special education staff to accommodate severe special needs students.

In “readjusting how we’re using funds,” Karas said, the district has looked for savings in early retirement packages by not offering benefits next year, equating to a $50,000 line item. The district board also drafted savings in legal counsel and pulled unutilized line items from the budget, such as outside tuition to students who have been incarcerated, which seldom occurs – a $10,000 line item.

“We looked to three to five years of historical trend data and adjusted the budget accordingly,” Karas said.

Meanwhile, shopping around for better rates on health benefits this past school year paid off.

Proposals from about five brokers were reviewed, Karas said, many of which offered rates from the same company. In the end, the district stayed with the Colorado Employer Benefit Trust, which reviewed the district’s package and reduced costs on the basis of “low usage” in claims among staff. The reduction reflects a $90,000 savings in the district draft budget.

The district was also able to squeeze a major curriculum upgrade out of the present-day budget by shutting down all purchasing among faculty starting in April, Karas said. The new-improved “research-based curriculum” cost the district about $45,000. This year’s purchase freeze also allowed for new carpet in five classrooms of Fraser Elementary School, classrooms with the same carpet installed in the 1980s.

In the draft 2012 budget, $32,000 was added to the existing technology budget, for a total of $57,000 to get more iPads into classrooms in each grade level. As many as 50 teachers have shown interest in using iPads, and as many as 50 more iPads will be added to the pool available for student use. Already, the district has as many as 100 iPads available for classroom use.

“They’ve been pretty hot around here,” said Kery Harrelson, technology director.

The technology budget will also be used to upgrade infrastructure to support the use of iPads in every building, he said.

‘No momentum’ on GLE

The budget-related subject of reopening Grand Lake Elementary School has received “no momentum in the boardroom,” according to Karas. With a $466,000 deficit, reopening the school next year would not be possible, she said.

“My comfort only comes from (an East Grand) reserve that can sustain us,” she said. “My discomfort is with the state’s continued inability to adequately fund K-12 education.

“The only reason our reserve is where it is, is we’ve positioned ourselves to be here through making hard decisions.”

Three years ago, Karas pointed out, the district’s reserve was at $1.2 million. Reserves now, she said, “are healthy enough to sustain us for a couple of years.”

In terms of academic and athletic/artistic program cuts over the course of budget deliberations in recent years, nothing is being brought back, Karas said, nor are any more programs proposed to be eliminated.

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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