Challenging math for Jeffco schools

-A A +A

By Paula Noonan
Thirty Jefferson County public schools recently received the John Irwin School of Excellence Award or the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award for academic achievement and acaddemic growth in 2010. The Colorado Board of Education and governor give the awards to the 8 percent of schools that score highest in each category.
Other numbers for Jeffco are not so great. The state legislature has finally put together the school finance bill that provides funding for all school districts in Colorado. Funding is on the down side of an arc.
The state’s proposed funding to Jeffco in 2011-12 is $507,793,570, down $31,109,540, or 5.77 percent, from 2010-11. The state’s portion from the general fund is $312,666,871. The property tax portion is $195,126,699. Jeffco received $21,742,881 in federal ARRA money in 2010-11 to help bridge budget deficits. Those dollars are no longer available.
The state places Jeffco’s total appraised value at $6,908,595,543 in 2011, a 5.49 percent decline from the $7,309,550,696 in 2010. The 2011 number will not easily move up, given foreclosure rates and overall downward pressure on both commercial and residential property values. Stabilization would be helpful.
The district must respond to these numbers by cutting costs to balance its budget. Conservative budgeting that created a substantial reserve is running out of steam as the effects of the 2007-09 recession have dragged on.
The district reached a budget high of $660 million in 2009-10 with the help of federal ARRA and EduJobs funding and a tap into district reserves. By 2013, our projected funding will be about $558 million, almost exactly $100 million less than in 2009.
Children entering our schools in 2011-12 will receive $6,275 per student from the School Finance Act. In 2010, funding was $6,637 per student. That’s a 5.46 percent decline, a $362 drop. By contrast, kids in Cherry Creek School District will receive $6,374, and Boulder kids will receive $6,351 in 2011-12 due to the complicated distribution formula of the act.
These numbers clarify the landscape for Jeffco schools for the next five years. The school district has turned to employees, parents and citizens to figure its way through the challenge of plummeting revenues.
Last month, two members of the school board, the superintendent, and representatives from employee associations met to address our deficit. Everyone at “The Summit” had a huge stake in the outcome.
Since personnel expense is roughly 85 percent of the district’s budget, all employees accepted a cut in their take-home pay. Employee groups agreed to reduce their salaries by $16 million. Like state employees in 2009-10, district employees’ work year is reduced by four non-student contact days and two student-contact furlough days.
The district will trim 212 full-time-equivalent positions, including 111.5 classroom teachers. Class sizes will consequently be larger for elementary schools and scheduling options fewer for middle and high school students.
Two elementary schools will close, activity fees will go up, and parents will pay for transportation. The mountain Outdoor Labs will close for the first time in their history.
To be sure, Jeffco is not the only district suffering budget problems. Districts across the state — large, medium and small — will struggle. Dollars may creep up by 2014, but no one knows when and whether funding will get back to the 2009 level.
Based on these facts, it’s likely that school employees will take more pay cuts in the next few years. The district will certainly close more schools. The district’s reserve will decline $31.5 million in 2011-12 and $40.8 million in 2012-13.
At the Senate Appropriations hearing on the school finance bill, the consensus among legislators was that the bill was as good as possible, even though it wasn’t good enough. Jane Urschel, lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said, “That’s like saying that being bitten in half by a shark is better than being eaten whole.”

Paula Noonan is a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education.