Timely action on school budget

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By Greg Romberg

Facing severe budget problems if the legislature agrees to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed budget, the Jefferson County School District took a new and dramatic approach to cutting its budget. A budget summit with representatives of the Board of Education, the teachers union, the classified employees association, the administrators’ association and district leadership spent a weekend with a federal mediator and came up with a $40 million reduction plan that has pain for everyone.
District employees will take six furlough days that will cost them 3 percent of their annual salaries. Two elementary schools and an alternative high school will be closed. New or higher fees will be instituted for transportation or to participate in extracurricular activities. And, the popular outdoor lab programs for sixth-graders will be suspended. There will be five public meetings in April for people to share their thoughts about the proposals.
The board has announced that the package will either be adopted or rejected in full. Given the way the process to close schools ended last year (only one elementary school was closed), this all-or-nothing approach makes sense. In retrospect, if the working group was going to come up with an all-or-nothing scenario, it would have made sense to have some public input before the budget summit began. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and to give the district and its constituent groups credit for taking a dramatic step in a timely way when the governor’s budget proposal suggested much more dramatic cuts than the education community had expected.
A major part of Hickenlooper’s budget announcement was that it is intended to reflect an ongoing change, so it will be necessary for the people with an interest in our schools to keep looking at the best ways to provide quality education to our kids with limited resources. April’s meetings should not only serve to get input on this proposal but should be the beginning of an ongoing public dialogue on what else should be done moving forward.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.