West Grand schools escape major budget cuts | SkyHiNews.com

West Grand schools escape major budget cuts

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi News
Kremmling, CO Colorado

The West Grand School Board approved, June 15, a $5,857,321 budget for the 2010-2011 school year.

The bottom line reflects a $53,000 increase over the previous year and includes a beginning fund balance of a little more than $1.5 million.

Total expenditures are estimated at around $4.3 million, up $33,000 from last year.

In a difficult financial year for schools across the state, West Grand fared better than most thanks, in part, to the fact that it receives very little state aide, said Superintendent Kevin Chalfant.

Most of Colorado’s 170 school districts rely on the state to fund more than 10 percent of their budgets. To save money this year, the state is rescinding some 6 percent of its contribution to those school districts.

West Grand is among only six schools in the state that are considered to be self-funded, and it receives less than 5 percent of its annual budget from the state.

“We raise almost all our money through local taxpayers,” said School Board President Larry Banman. “Henderson Mill is a major part of that.”

After some debate in the Colorado Legislature this spring as to whether all school districts should be treated equally in the rescission, which would have required West Grand to dig into its reserves to pay the state the full 6.3 percent other districts are paying, the legislature decided instead to compromise with the six locally funded districts and will be rescinding only 2 percent of West Grand’s budget over two years, which amounts to about $45,000 per year.

The school board made up for that loss, as well as a continued decline in enrollment, primarily through cuts in staffing, Chalfant said.

The budget accounts for $150,000 in savings by attritioning three non-teaching positions, one middle school English teaching position and half an administrator’s salary. The board also reduced contract hours for much of its non-teaching staff (5-12 days less per contract) and eliminated Friday school, thereby reducing teaching contracts as well.

The good news for the district is that an anticipated 10 percent cut in supplies and materials wasn’t necessary this year. Most of the school’s programs will remain intact. Students won’t have to pay fees to attend school or to play sports. And, parents who live more that 5 miles from a bus stop will still receive mileage reimbursements, although they will be held accountable for logging that the children actually ride the bus most days.

The coming budget cycle saw a slight increase in the state’s per pupil funding, which helped make up for declining enrollment, Chalfant said. West Grand received $8,404 per student last year, and this year it will receive $8,492 per student. The upcoming budget is built on 16 fewer students than last year, which leaves the district short about $77,000, despite the per-pupil increase. (Enrollment is based on a five-year attendance average, which was 472 last year and this year is anticipated to be 458.)

A small boon for the district came from the public lands fund, which paid the district about $100,000 this year to make up for property taxes potentially lost by the large percentage of public lands in the county. Chalfant said he won’t be counting on that funding again in the future since the U.S. Forest Service has already warned school districts that it can’t afford to continue paying it.

The board also paid off some long-term debts this year, reducing the payments it will have to make next year.

“We are in pretty good shape, but we decided to start the cuts this year,” Chalfant said. “This is not just a one year cycle and there was no sense in putting all those cuts back in the budget.”

With three budget-damaging issues on the ballot in November, $100,000 in public lands money on the line and 2 mills ($124,000) expiring next year, things could get worse.

“We have done half the work this year so that we’ll only have to do half next year,” Chalfant said.

The school board has voted to reintroduce the budget override issue on the November ballot, although it hasn’t decided what amount it will ask for.

“Local residents are going to have to decide where education is on the priority list when it comes to voting on mill levy overrides,” Chalfant said. “If our local residents put education high on priority list, we will be able to offer all the programs we have in the past and continue to build in technology and other areas that make our district an excellent educational district.”

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or rarmstrong@skyhidailynews.com.