School board seeks input on budget cuts | SummitDaily.com

School board seeks input on budget cuts

LORY POUNDER
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

FRISCO ” Large sheets of paper with a wide range of money-saving ideas hung throughout Summit Middle School’s cafeteria awaiting comments Wednesday evening.

It was part of a worksession held by the Summit School District Board of Education that focused on gaining staff and community input on the upcoming budget cuts. The school district is looking to cut about $1.7 million from the 2008/2009 budget, officials said.

The district plans to use the comments “to see what people want so we can accomplish this budget challenge,” said Karen Strakbein, assistant superintendent of business services.

The ideas ” which came from meetings with school staff and administration ” ranged from a reduced salary increase or freeze to staff reduction to reducing the hours of paraprofessionals. Some others involved reductions in curriculum budget, looking for budget efficiencies, reducing one student day or one teacher day, raising lunch prices, cutting programs and more.

Decisions have not been made and some of the ideas would still need to be negotiated with teachers.

Each idea came with a dollar amount and percentage of total cut. And after the worksession, most of the ideas had both pro and con comments listed underneath.

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“Ultimately, the school board is going to have to make some really hard decisions,” said Christine Scanlan, school board president, shortly before the about 200 people who attended began circulating the cafeteria to share their thoughts.

The cuts became necessary as a result of operating expenses that were included in the 2004 mill levy that sunsets this year. The district is working to move those ongoing costs into the general fund so that they are funded by an ongoing revenue stream instead of relying on voters every few years, school officials said.

Forty-four positions, or about $3.6 million in operational costs, were funded by the 2004 Special Building Maintenance and Technology Fund mill levy. Since the November mill levy passed and includes some ongoing revenue and the district was able to find some additional money from attrition and expenses, the number they are working to cut now is less than $2 million, officials said.

The school board plans on making decisions about the cuts at the end of March, and before that, the public will be invited to comment.

School finance needs a remedy at the state level, school officials said.

Beth Flaherty, a teacher at Summit High School and member of Summit Colorado Education Association (SCEA), attended an assembly last spring in Denver and heard about the issues around school finances.

“By 2011 we’re going to be in a really tough situation,” she said at the worksession about the state’s “tangled web of financial constraints.”

And as a result of the serious situation, Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association, formed a an alliance ” Believe in a Better Colorado ” to try to impact the issue.

According to Believe in a Better Colorado, this is a wealthy state, but less than the national average per student is spent. In fact, by measuring education spending as a percentage of personal income, only two states spend less on K through 12 and higher education and only one state spends less on teacher salaries and benefits.

School officials encouraged those at the meeting to become informed about how school finance works and help legislators make changes.