School district finishes first draft of budget after struggling with cuts

After $1.1 million drop in revenue, just $23,000 in the red

The first draft of the Gunnison Watershed school district’s budget doesn’t look much better than it did a month ago, when the school board considered and accepted most of the 13 recommendations handed down from the Administrative Council to slash $700,000 from the budget. But it doesn’t look any worse.





The district’s administration has worked on draft one of the budget since those recommendations were, in part, adopted and has come close to finding balance between shrinking revenues and closely cropped expenditures. There is still more than $23,000 that needs to be trimmed before a second draft goes to the board June 6.
District business manager Jan Brummond told the board Monday, May 9 that the revenues the district is expecting are slow to come in. “We’re about $2 million behind where we were [collecting property tax] last year.”
On top of that, Brummond said, the district is projecting 1,724 students next fall and will get only $6,453.42 from the state per student, or a drop in state funding just this year of more than $641,000. “That is just the start of the reductions,” she said.
“We’ve estimated a 5 percent reduction in state and federal funding. We have lost the [federal] Even Start grant of $117,000 and we also lost the ARRA grant, which was $240,000,” she continued. “So we lost total revenues of $1.1 million, and that’s where we started in developing the budget.”
Brummond ran through a few cost increases that were included in the budget, like audit costs, insurance, a new elementary math program, an activity fund that had been cut last year and replaced and money for “longevity pay” as a retirement benefit, among other things. The increased costs and reduction in revenues are being made up with cost cutting, lost staff positions and a reduction in programs.
But the budget changes with the most impact are the cuts that were made to make up for the rescissions to state funding. In April meetings, the board considered a list of 13 major cuts to funding in an attempt to balance the budget.
The draft budget includes big cuts to the Gunnison Valley School (GVS), and cutting the elementary Spanish program at the Crested Butte Community School that has been around since the school opened its doors in 1997.
The decisions to cut the GVS budget and elementary Spanish programs at CBCS were both part of the district’s goal of bringing more equity between the funding and education every student gets, no matter what school they attend or what need they might have.
The draft budget also calls for cuts to the driving education program; athletic and activity travel are facing reduction or elimination with coaches driving smaller vehicles to games or meets and an end to school field trips.
The struggling food service program will get only $20,000 next year, meaning there will be a “realignment of staff” or higher meal costs.
And as the district’s budget for 2011-12 moved one step closer toward adoption, a contingent of community members came to Monday’s meeting to support the future of Gunnison Valley School, the district’s alternative high school that serves 26 students and faces big cuts in next year’s budget.
The school is just one of the casualties in the current round of budget cuts, losing nearly $100,000 in funding, down to $167,000, for programs and the use of the building constructed last year specifically for GVS.
Several questions from members of the Concerned Citizens Group for Gunnison Valley School prodded the board about why the district’s budget reserve couldn’t be tapped into and why GVS seemed to be bearing the brunt of the budget cuts.
Board president Anne Hausler admitted that the district’s budgeted reserve was at 24 percent, while the district generally tries to maintain 12 percent of the budget in reserve, which would cover operating expenses for about three months.
“It’s 24 percent this year, but one of the things we’ve done is predicted for the next two years and that drops to 17 percent next year and 11 percent the year after that,” Hausler said. “Unless there’s some miraculous turn around in the world, it’s not a pretty picture… But I can easily see why you might think that we’re flush with money.”
Another question took aim at the district’s administration, which appears to be getting a raise next year. But business manager Jan Brummond said, “I came in with a lot more experience than [my predecessor] so some of that cost is me… I think of all the salaries, mine is the only one that is different than what was there last year.” She also pointed out that insurance costs had gone up.
A little frustrated by the tone of the questions Hausler pointed out that per pupil, students at GVS got quite a bit more than students that attended a traditional high school. The cuts would bring some balance to what each student was getting from the district.  
 “We would never go to the community for a bond issue as some kind of bait and switch,” she said, in reference to the suggestion that the district is taking away a GVS building that people voted for. “We have been so inequitable to students who don’t go to Gunnison Valley School it’s gotten to be very difficult to justify the budget at the school.”
Board member Bill Powell said, “I think it needs to be said that we are not backing off of our commitment to alternative education for secondary students. We’re just trying to figure out a way of providing alternative education … more effectively and more efficiently.”
The school board didn’t give much thought to the Administrative Council’s recommendation to cut funding to the program entirely, which would have saved the district about $266,000. Instead they pushed for the program to be kept alive at whatever level the $167,000 would allow, which is what the school would get in the current draft.
The public seemed to appreciate the board’s passion and the difficulty of the decisions the board has had to make over the last few months.
It appeared that none of the decisions came to the school board easily, and they tried to take some comfort in the fact that they are tough measures that are being taken, in one form or another, by most of the state’s 178 school districts.
Powell placed a lot of the blame for the district’s financial hardship on the state constitution and legislature, which have done more harm than good in recent years, he said.
“We haven’t caused this financial mess the state has descended upon the 178 school districts across the state of Colorado,” he said. “We’re doing our best over a four-year period, and probably for two more years in front of us, to use the dollars wisely that we have available to us.”
At the same time, the district did get some news from the state that couldn’t be classified as being entirely bad—hearing that the area property valuation had dropped from around $700 million to closer to $500 million, making the schools eligible for state money to make up for the decline.
Most of the district’s funding comes from local property taxes and, without the state’s money, the dip could have a dramatic impact on the district. And this is the fourth year of major cuts from the state’s share of funding. In all, the district has lost more than $2 million in state funding from a budget of around $12 million.
The school board will meet again May 23 to discuss the recommendations from the ad hoc committee that was set up to find possible solutions to the funding shortfall at GVS. Those recommendations could make their way into the second, and possibly final, draft of the budget being reviewed by the board June 6.

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