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School district makes cuts to balance 2009-10 budget

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By Vicky Gits

Under the budget approved for 2009-10, Jeffco Public Schools will be losing 50 elementary teachers, 12 bus drivers, 9.5 middle school teachers and 13 custodians.

In addition, the stars will go dark at the planetarium, and there will be a reduction in startup costs for Warren Tech North. However, no schools are targeted for closing.

Several factors have joined to force Jeffco into belt-tightening mode: voter rejection of a $350 million bond issue; the statewide budget deficit; reduced vehicle registration fees; and declining student enrollments. Property-tax proceeds are down about $2 million from $200 million last year, to $198 million projected in 2009-10.

The most serious negative has been the statewide budget shortfall, because the state is threatening to keep $11 million of the projected $28 million Jeffco Schools would stand to gain from Amendment 23’s guaranteed funding increases. The total amount of guaranteed state K-12 funding is projected to be $348 million, up from $319 million in 2008-09.

“The hardest thing to convey to the public is that the 4.9 percent isn’t really 4.9 percent,” said Lorie Gillis, the district’s chief financial officer. (The $11 million will be held in reserve until January’s state economic forecast and most likely will be taken away, so the net increase will be $8.7 million instead of $19.7 million.)

“The teachers association is saying, ‘You’ve got a 4.9 percent revenue increase.’ We say it’s more like 3.0 percent. These are very tough economic times … . We have been told the money will be taken back,” Gillis said.

“The state was able to give us stimulus dollars. The state took a portion of their stimulus funds and funded the (School Finance Act). Next year they won’t have that to backfill. There are a lot of variables,” she said.

The total expenditure budget for 2009-10 is $670 million, up 2.25 percent from $656 million a year ago (a $14.7 million change).

However, the increase in the budget is offset by the $23.2 million in already-scheduled salary and benefit increases. Other budgeted increases include $1 million for mandated ESL and special ed teachers, $1 million for graduation requirements, $1.3 million for new schools or school expansion, and $2.5 million for Budgeting for Results, or quality-improvement proposals.

The personnel reductions comprise by far the biggest chunk of the cutbacks in the 2009-10 budget. Elementary teacher cuts represent $3.7 million, bus drivers are $528,000 and custodians are $565,000.

Altogether, school officials identified 67 items across many departments to come to a grand total of $11.9 million in reductions compared to 2008-09.

The school district is the largest employer in Jefferson County, with more than 14,000 employees. It employs more than 5,000 certified staff. There are 94 elementary schools, 20 middle schools, 17 high schools, 13 charter schools and eight option schools.

Based on the failure of the mill levy alone, Jeffco Schools decided last fall that it would need to make $12 million in cuts each year for four years. That means that next year further reductions in jobs are likely.

“We have been trimming for years,” Gillis said. “The bulk of the budget left to trim is in staffing. Our total expenses are more than 80 percent compensation.”

She doesn’t believe that stimulus funds will have much impact on the average public-school student.

“Money from stimulus funds is earmarked for students at risk and special education,” Gillis said. “The rules are very strict. It will help in that we can direct more dollars to those in need, but not to general operations. We have to be careful not spend them on ongoing salaries and compensation. That’s a tough message.”

Teachers have cited the stimulus funds in their call for salary increases.

“In two years, those dollars are gone,” Gillis said. “Every 1 percent in compensation equates to $5 million. $5 million equates to 100 teachers.

“It would be nonsensical to invest that in ongoing compensation or jobs,” Gillis said.

Another strategic cut is in the implementation of increased graduation requirements from 22 to 24 credits. The credit increase mandate still stands, but instead of spending $2.5 million in the first year in effect, the district is spending only $1 million.

The reduction of students from 84,796 as of July 2007 to 84,657 in 2009 doesn’t really translate into one-to-one into savings.

“For every one less student, we have 40 percent of savings,” Gillis said. “We have so many fixed costs. If all the students left out of the same area at the same time, then there might be more savings.

“It’s a population trend,” Gillis said. “We are in the 10th year of decline, but that is starting to turn around in kindergarten, one, two and three. We are net gainers in the sense that more kids who live outside Jeffco attend Jeffco schools than kids who live inside Jeffco and go to other schools.”

For parting words, Gillis chose to emphasize the unpredictability of revenue in the next few years.

“Uncertainty demands that we be conservative. The stimulus money is one-time and not ongoing. We still have challenges, but because we have been prudent, we do have adequate reserves.”

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or vicky@evergreenco.com.

Where some of the cuts are coming from:

Transportation: 12 FTE bus drivers, $528,000; elementary teachers, 50 FTE, $3.7 million; middle schools, two assistant principals, $178,600; middle school teachers, 9.5 FTE, $694,700; Warren Tech North, reduce startup costs, $700,000; graduation requirements funding, $1.5 million; reduce one-time Budgeting for Results funding, $800,000; custodians, reduce 13 FTE, $565,000; center programs, diverse learners, staff reduction, $763,000

Source: Jeffco Schools executive summary of the proposed budget, 2009-10