School district looks at impact of past budget cuts on academics

Less funding expected next year

One school year after implementing some major cuts to several programs across the RE1J school district, administrators are gearing up for the possibility of another round of reductions in the coming year. But before rolling up their sleeves and digging into the dirty work, the board of education heard how last year’s cuts have panned out.

 

 

Faced with losing an additional $250,000 in state funding, the school board asked business manager Stephanie Juneau for an update on how students and staff have been affected by the changes from last year. At a meeting Monday, April 2, they heard that the cuts haven’t been entirely positive, but that it could have been much worse.
Eliminating elementary Spanish classes across the district was one of the cuts the district decided to make last year, and it hit some students and families hard. So in the absence of a district-sponsored Spanish program, an after-school program of sorts popped up to take its place.
“The need at [Crested Butte Community School] is being somewhat filled with an after-school enrichment program, which is being privately funded here in Crested Butte,” Juneau said. “It’s being offered to students in the first through fifth grades, so kindergarten does not have any opportunity for Spanish and not all kids are taking that enrichment class. So it’s a hole that’s kind of being filled, but not very well.”
The district administration also cut a teaching position from the Gunnison Middle School that is being dealt with by shuffling a teacher from one building to another. The district’s music program in the Gunnison Schools is in a similar situation, with all of students’ needs being addressed through cooperation among teachers and students who want to see the program continue.
“While all the needs are being addressed, it’s happening because people are being shared across schools so the scheduling is not ideal, whatsoever, and those principals are still trying to work out a better way, but they’re having a tough time trying to figure it out,” Juneau said. “Now they’re trying to work out a better way by next year.”
Merging the district’s alternative Gunnison Valley School, which took in at-risk students and gave them a chance at experiential learning and a standards-based way of assessing learning, with the Gunnison High School was a highly contentious decision the school board justified with potential savings in the budget of more than $200,000.
Those savings haven’t been quite as high as initially projected, as a teaching aide was kept on the payroll for the current year. But the cost should be reduced further in the coming year.
“This reduction was intended to be an FTE [Full-Time Equivalent] reduction of 2.5 and in reality it’s been 1.5,” Juneau said. “One of the aides has been retained, but this will be reduced as originally planned in the next fiscal year. Otherwise the reduction of one-and-a-half is okay.”
The budget cut that has been the hardest to deal with is the elimination of the elementary counseling positions across the district.
“This is the biggest toll where needs are not being met. There is not a good solution in place. We’re currently using special education teacher’s aides to meet those needs. It’s not being done very well,” Juneau said. “This is affecting Gunnison Community School tremendously. It’s impacting the Gunnison Middle School counselor tremendously. A lot more of this activity is going into the teachers’ hands, especially with the higher needs kids. The kids are being negatively impacted. So this counselor is an issue.”
One piece of good news that came from the Colorado Department of Education could remedy the problem, with the possibility of an additional $137 in state funding for every full-time student in the district coming in the next fiscal year.
Board member Jim Perkins mentioned that the district’s Administrative Council looked at surrounding districts when making the decision regarding elementary counselors and found that most surrounding districts don’t have counselors for elementary aged students.
“It would be good to find a way to meet that need,” Juneau said.
Other changes related to the cuts seem to be working out better. The realignment of the district’s library staff and the elimination of a high school counselor both “seem to be working out just fine,” Juneau said.
The changes in the transportation scheme for the district’s drivers and athletes is also being handled well, she said.
“We were in a bind. We’re working on it and offered solutions. Now we’re going back and analyzing the effectiveness of the solutions,” Perkins said.
The district will start looking at a place to cut the budget further in preparation for deeper reductions in funding next year as budget talks ramp up next month.

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