School district prepares for budget cuts
FRISCO – Education funding has yet to be whacked by the state, but the Summit School District is preparing for the eventuality by trying to save $196,000 this school year.
Superintendent Wes Smith said he’s asking principals to spend only what’s necessary, and the administrative team will review every staff vacancy before automatically refilling it.
Already, the district is letting a Silverthorne Elementary School paraprofessional position and a Summit High School campus supervisor slot remain vacant. Another staff member on leave is only being 50 percent replaced by other staffers working more hours.
“We will be doing that throughout the year,” Smith said.
This week, Gov. Bill Owens ordered many state agencies to chop 6 percent from their budgets, but he left education funding alone. The state is grappling with falling revenues.
Education funding could still take a hit, especially after the Legislature convenes in January. Smith and district business manager Dan Huenneke said efforts to save money now are proactive.
“We are taking precautionary steps to conserve budget dollars and be prepared for possible outcomes,” Huenneke said. “We don’t want to make abrupt decisions in April or May next year.”
Fears are the 2003-04 school year budget could be hurt worse, even though Owens is calling for a 5.3-percent increase in education spending that fully funds increases in inflation and enrollment.
Smith worries the Legislature will fight Owens’ proposal.
The superintendent said if the worst is realized, Summit would be saved from direct layoffs by its annual staff turnover rate.
“Attrition in this district is sufficient enough that I think we can handle cuts. I do not want to see class sizes increase, but I also do not want to lay off people, either.” Smith said.
The system employs about 230 teachers. Last year, 37 spots turned over completely, although there were 47 new hires.
A slow economy might temper turnover, but Smith said if turnover was halved, “that still probably would be enough” to stem layoffs.
Staff cuts are unavoidable with deep budget cuts in a system where 80 percent of a $23 million general fund budget is wages and salaries.
Summit is fortunate, compared to many other school districts, in that only 6 percent of its per-pupil funding comes from the state.
Because of Summit’s relative wealth in real estate, 94 percent of the general program budget is locally supported by property taxes. This does not include separate property tax allocations for building and maintenance, transportation, new construction and debt payments on Summit High and Summit Cove and Upper Blue elementary schools.
Smith said where Summit is at 6 percent state support, the Coloradowide average is 57 percent. Boulder schools are at 50 percent, and some poorer districts are as high as 75 percent.
“We are in a very good position as far as other districts in the state,” Smith said. “We have some belt-tightening to do, but we can absorb it without doing serious damage.”
Nobody is sure yet how the ax will fall on school funding. But if one scenario plays out, local property owners could get a tax cut – believe it or not.
That’s because every student in the state is worth a certain amount of funding under equalization laws, no matter where that student lives.
This year, that figure is $5,999.83 per student, according to a complicated formula set annually by the Legislature.
In Summit’s case, only 6 percent of that figure is state aid.
If the state decides to cut education by reducing the formula, it would be giving property taxpayers an unintended discount because of how little state support flows into Summit.
The state’s bigger savings would come from the poorer districts.
The school district also is saving money this year by increasing the co-pays and premium payments in its highly regarded health insurance plan.
Smith said the plan, in its current form, started at the system paying 80 percent of medical costs and employees 20 percent through co-pays, deductibles and premiums. The system’s share has risen to 88 percent, and Smith said the school board wants to stabilize at that ratio.
Co-pays for doctors visits increased from $15 to $20, and those who go the doctor more than six times a year will pay more, Smith said.
“We are shifting costs to people who use the plan the most,” he said.
“Our belief is that we have to have participation and shared responsibility with employees so there is a sense of cost and value when they use the program.”
Jim Pokrandt can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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