Summit School District leaders approve $53 million spending plan, outline commitment to avoid a deficit  

Budget represents a 10% increase in expenses over last year. Amid deficit concerns, officials are planning to reduce spending in 2024-25.

The Summit School District Administration Building in Frisco is pictured Nov. 12, 2020.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with exact salary figures and to correct information about savings requirements for the school district.

The Summit Board of Education approved a spending plan for the 2023-24 school year totaling $53.8 million, a roughly 10% increase in expenses from 2022-23.

Board members unanimously voted for the proposal during their June 22 meeting, capping months of back-and-forth budget discussions that included salary negotiations and concerns about a future deficit

About 88% of spending is slated to go to staff salaries and benefits. District leaders boosted pay for a slew of employees including bus drivers, teachers, support staff, principals and administrators. 

“Keeping great teachers who have experience is a really big deal … and we were at risk — if we didn’t make some changes — of losing people,” said Superintendent Tony Byrd, who added that “the same is true for principals” and other positions. 

Following weeks of negotiations that eventually led to closed-door mediation, district leaders reached an agreement with the teacher’s union earlier this month to increase pay for new hires from $50,000 to $52,200. But the biggest raises will be felt among veteran teachers who could make up to $112,000 based on their experience and time with the district.

According to Chief Financial Officer Kara Drake, the average teacher will see a salary increase of nearly 12% next school year. 

Support staff will also now make 60% of the market rate which represents the average pay of a handful of comparable districts in mountain resort regions and the Denver metro area. Principals and assistant principals will now make 75% of the market rate. 

And bus drivers will see a $5 increase in hourly pay, jumping to $28.25 next school year. 

“This board has invested in our staff across the board to be competitive across our comparative markets,” said Board President Kate Hudnut. 

While pay increases were a top priority for district leaders who saw cost of living as a threat to hiring and retention, spending will need to be tapered down next year if the district is to avoid a deficit. 

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For years, the district’s spending has exceeded its revenues. In 2022-23, total revenue was just over $45.8 million while expenditures were more than $48.6 million. Next school year, revenue is expected to be around $50 million with expenses over $53 million. 

To manage this, district officials have siphoned money from the fund balance, which serves as the district’s savings account. Per district policy, at least 7% of annual revenue must be retained for this fund in addition to 3% that is mandated by state law. 

While the fund currently exceeds that 7% threshold, and will continue to do so under next school year’s budget, it could drop below that by the 2024-25 year. And if revenue and spending doesn’t change, the balance could be negative by 2025-26.

The issue came to a head weeks ago when two groups, the District Accountability Committee and District Finance Committee, sent letters to board members voicing frustration with the budgeting process

The letters called on board members to consider alternative budgets even before approving their 2023-24 spending plan and warned of serious challenges if changes were not made. 

Officials have identified several areas to save on funds in next school year’s budget, which include about $650,000 from unfilled positions and $200,000 from curriculum purchases. Some expenses were also moved from the general fund, the district’s main account, to other funds. 

Byrd has pledged never to bring a budget proposal before the board that takes the fund balance below the 7% threshold and reiterated his commitment to avoiding a deficit. 

“It’s getting clearer where the efficiencies can be, and we will start on the process right away … so it doesn’t feel like we’re crunched,” Byrd said.

To maintain sustainable spending, the district would need to see a 5% increase in revenue next year while reducing spending by $1.2 million. If revenue continues to grow after that point, the district could then increase its spending in 2025-26 while not exceeding its revenue.

Drake called the scenario “a very reasonable assumption.” This is in-part because of more optimistic economic trends in Colorado as well as a commitment from the state legislature to fully buy down the budget stabilization factor, a Great Recession-era policy that has significantly limited how much the state can approve for K-12 education funding.

Still, the district must consider other factors such as the fact that as property tax revenue increases, state funding will fall. That’s because state funds backfill revenue that isn’t generated from property taxes, Drake said. 

But board members expressed optimism that they would be able to set the district on a path away from deficit spending. 

Board member Johanna Kugler said the district is “already seeing some of those adjustments and recommendations” that were proposed by the accountability and finance committees. 

“It gives me a little bit more confidence to know that this was a team effort to make those choices,” Kugler said. 

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