District working to balance 2009 budget
In an effort to cut costs in the 2009 budget, the Gunnison REIJ school board is considering eliminating funds for a new modular building intended for the Crested Butte Community School.
The modular building would have provided two classrooms for the rapidly expanding student body at the Community School, which has grown from 302 students when the school first opened in 1997 to 484 in October of last year.
“Scheduling is going to be super tight this [coming school] year. We did some preliminary calculations and found that we had 69 classes that need to be scheduled and 70 classrooms and it’s inevitable that at least two classes will be scheduled at the same time. So there will need to be a class held in the multi-purpose room,” says Stephanie Niemi, Crested Butte Community School principal.
The school currently has a science teacher and a Spanish teacher who travel from classroom to classroom and, according to Niemi, there are plans to convert a humanities classroom into a science classroom to meet the need.
“It’s going to be a juggling act,” she says.
The school board discussed its budget plan for the 2008-2009 school year during its regular meeting on Monday, May 12.
The board’s decision to cut the modular building was not the only cut made in order to bring the budget into balance.
The district board also agreed to cut funds used to purchase vehicles—in this case a bus, an SUV and/or a car—saving more than $130,000.
The board also opted to cut sidewalk repair, a custodial supervisor’s position, and textbook replacement, and several other items that were either eliminated or had funding reduced.
In all, more than $420,000 was eliminated from the budget after making the cuts, turning a $360,000 deficit into a $61,000 surplus.
The board cited rising costs and a lagging economy as rationale for making such drastic cuts to the budget.
“Just like the fuel costs and the economy are making the prices of everything you need at your house go up, the same things are making the cost of every single thing the school district needs go up,” says MJ Vosburg, the board’s chairperson.
For example, in 2008, $70,200 was budgeted for fuel costs to operate the district’s buses and fleet cars. This year that figure has grown to $100,000. Employee benefits for CBCS alone have grown by $30,000 in the last year.
Despite the elimination of the modular building from this year’s budget, there are no plans to seek funds for another building next year, according to Vosburg. Instead the school district is planning to ask taxpayers to approve a bond issue in November that would allow the local school to build something more permanent.
In the winter of 2006 the school board started to identify parts of the district infrastructure that were in need of repair or replacement and found an estimated $30 million or more in needed improvements. A bond issue of that size or larger is expected to be presented to voters on the November ballot.
“We hope to pass bond and be building with brick and mortar next year. Ideally we would get one bank of classrooms done and not need the extra space,” says Vosburg.
Although that won’t help students next school year, the faculty at CBCS seem to be making things work, since they have been hoping for the modular building for the last four years.
“I think what will continue to happen is that you’ll have secondary teachers who don’t have classrooms, and that is something they’ve been dealing with for a long time in Crested Butte,” says superintendent Jon Nelson.
While the board agreed to cut the modular building at CBCS, the school will likely see new positions added.
“We’re increasing our secondary Spanish program, we’re increasing K-12 and we’re getting a math interventionist,” says Niemi, adding that having a reading interventionist in place has produced positive results.
“We make ends meet here even though the number of students is increasing and that’s perfectly appropriate for what we’re trying to do,” she says.
The board will consider the revised budget again June 9 and must approve a final budget by July 1.