Could closing Summit County schools make the budget work? |

Could closing Summit County schools make the budget work?

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

The Budget Efficiencies Workgroup report, reviewed and discussed at Tuesday’s Summit School District Board of Education meeting, makes several efficiencies recommendations surrounding consolidating schools, adjusting pay policies with staff, taking a closer look at extra curricular offerings and fees, and analyzing the food service fund so it’s self-sufficient.

Board members will take time to consider the report individually and prioritize its recommendations.

“We do have time,” interim superintendent Karen Strakbein said. “What’s important is an honest dialogue about these issues.”

About $227.5 million was cut from the state’s K-12 education funding this year, which means district-level cuts statewide. But with the $2.1 million voter-approved mill levy from November, Summit School District was able to budget without making further cuts. The district’s net reduction this year is $1.2 million (5.6 percent), compared to last year’s $1.3 million (5.9 percent). But this year, the district has the mill levy to cover the lost revenue. Officials anticipate future cuts from the state level, so they’re taking a look at how to best manage the district’s operations.

Among the most controversial items – and one several board members emphasized needed community input – was talk about operational efficiency of elementary schools, and possible consolidation or adjusting boundaries to obtain better enrollment numbers.

According to the workgroup, optimal enrollment for the elementary schools is 300 students. Four of the six elementary schools are operating below that level: Breckenridge Elementary has 206 students, Frisco Elementary has 193 students, Summit Cove Elementary has 268 students and Upper Blue Elementary has 274 students. Based on those findings, the workgroup said schools in the eastern part of the district (Silverthorne, Dillon Valley and Summit Cove) aren’t viable for consolidation, but those in the west should be considered.

After looking at future growth forecasts, though, the workgroup found that, in order to consolidate the buildings and still serve pre-K through fifth grade, the buildings would need additional capacity. The costs of construction would need to be evaluated along with the gain of selling property before a decision could be made.

In the meantime, the workgroup recommends shifting the boundary between Upper Blue and Frisco Elementary as the enrollment at Upper Blue grows. Families should still be able to take advantage of open enrollment. Some board members were concerned with the suggestion, though, and intend to include the community in the discussion.

To address long-term needs, the workgroup suggests the board consider a capital project campaign that would include the costs of consolidating schools in community conversations.

Other efficiency suggestions would need to be negotiated with staff, such as discontinuing paying for unused sick leave when an employee resigns or is terminated. In 2009-10, the district paid $69,540 to 15 people for accumulated sick leave. The workgroup calculated the sick leave liability on June 30 this year was $727,332.

The workgroup did agree with the current district goal to move the teacher base salary to $40,000 as soon as economically practical.

They also suggest evaluating extra duty pay for staff to see if it’s necessary, effective and appropriate – which also means taking a look at extracurricular offerings and fees. Recommendations concerning activities include being cautious of adding new sports, considering raising fees for participation and evaluating baseball and golf for possible elimination.

Board member Alison Casias asked why baseball was chosen.

“There are a similar number of kids in ice hockey, but ice hockey costs twice as much per kid,” she said.

Other board members suggested allowing each school to choose how to cut expenses in ways most appropriate for its community.

Also at the meeting, board members:

> Adopted the 2011-12 budget, with a General Fund of $33,301,556, bond fund of nearly $13 million, capital reserve fund of about $4.3 million, $1.2 million food service fund, $1 million full-day kindergarten fund, grant fund of about $2.2 million, nearly $4 million in health benefits, $1.5 million for student activities and $1.5 million for the transportation fund.

> Accepted, on first reading, revisions to the bus scheduling and routing policy that will assist single and working parents by allowing grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters or other responsible adults to receive pre-school students from school buses in the afternoon.

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