Facing a $1.5M cut to revenue, Summit School District prepares for an uncertain future
KEYSTONE — As state funding for education continues to see cuts, Summit School District leaders are looking long term.
The novel coronavirus’ impact on state revenue directly affected school districts across Colorado, including Summit. The district is facing about $1.5 million in revenue decreases after state legislators cut funding by 5% in May.
Although it’s facing a major loss in revenue, the district is fully funded through the 2020-21 school year. Additional costs brought on by the pandemic are being offset by federal CARES Act funding.
That funding is not here to stay, and district leaders are preparing for even more budget cuts on the state level, Chief Financial Officer Kara Drake said.
“Things at the state level will rebound as far as their revenues … so we hope that will come back to us at a state level,” she said. “Economists projected that it will take a couple of years before we are really able to recover.”
Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. said this year will look different when it comes to budget discussions. While the school board already approved the 2020-21 budget, the superintendent plans to do monthly check-ins as the virus and its impacts progress.
“When we engage in those conversations with the school board, we’ll be able to outline what’s our best thinking based on the newest information that we have,” he said.
Unless things change at the state level, the district’s only current option to offset that funding shortfall is for voters to pass a local override of state funding decisions, which the district doesn’t have plans to propose at the moment, Drake said.
Those conversations are likely to come in the future; however, as the district is preparing to fund the new costs brought on by the virus. The district received two versions of CARES Act funding to help cover COVID-19 related costs.
The first batch of funding is called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, which was allocated directly from the federal government, Drake said. The district received $170,000 from the fund, which is allocated per pupil.
The funding will go toward paying for a custodial manager to oversee the cleaning and disinfecting of schools. It also will be used to help support tutoring programs for students and pay for cleaning supplies.
The second batch of funding comes from Gov. Jared Polis, who dedicated $1 billion of federal coronavirus relief funds to schools across the state. Of that $1 billion, Summit received almost $2 million. However, those funds are restricted to helping offset the costs of the virus and have to be spent before the end of December, Drake said.
“It can’t be used to backfill the loss in our state funding,” she said.
Drake said the district is still working out how it will use the $2 million. Right now, it plans to use that money to help pay for remote learning software like Edgenuity, Google Classroom and Zoom, which Drake anticipates will cost the district thousands of dollars. The district is also planning on using the $2 million to help pay for professional development programs, tutoring and support programs for students.
Another major consequence of the virus on school funding comes in the form of enrollment. With anxiety mounting over the future of schooling, some district leaders are worried that parents will chose to disenroll their students and opt for home schooling instead.
The district doesn’t yet have final enrollment numbers, which come Oct. 1. It’s currently working on creating a remote learning plan that will allow students who are uncomfortable going to class in person to do so online.
“Our funding is a per pupil allocation from the state,” Drake said. “As our enrollment changes, our funding changes, and they make those adjustments to the budget within the current year. If we see a large number of families that choose to home school and disenroll from the district, then that will be a negative impact on our funding.”
Smith said he’s focused on listening to families that are considering disenrolling from the district.
“This is going to be a critical time in that everyone has a choice to decide what is best for their particular child,” he said. “If our families do make that choice to go to home school, the reality of that … is that is going to remove additional funding that we would actually have with that particular scholar.”
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