Jeffco schools’ proposal of budget cuts rises to $40 million
posted by: Guest Blogger
Jefferson County Public Schools has proposed nearly $40 million in budget cuts for 2011-12 that would ax jobs, trim workers’ pay, close two elementary schools and suspend outdoor education for sixth-graders.
The proposed package — which the school board will vote on in May or June — also would impose transportation fees and and increase athletics fees.
The district originally thought the budget needed a $26 million trim for 2011-12. The new budget comes in at $627 million, so an additional $14 million trim was necessary. Employees will shoulder about $16 million of the $40 million in proposed cuts.
“We went to the $40 million target because as you look over the next few years, it doesn’t appear to get better,” said Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “So we’re trying to be strategic and take the long view.”
The district’s cuts — triggered by the announcement last month of $332 million in state funding cuts — emerged from a “summit” last weekend that included representatives from the school board and employees associations. It is believed to be the first such budget collaboration in the state.
The state budget still isn’t finalized, and that could affect the final Jeffco budget, but the arrangement of cuts announced Friday would not be subject to tweaking.
“What’s in this proposal is a package deal,” school district spokeswoman Melissa Reeves said. “There isn’t any shifting of money. It goes through the way it is, or it doesn’t.”
Under the plan, the district would cut 212 jobs — teachers, administrators and support staff — but most would be temporary teachers who were on a one-year contract.
“A lot of them were expecting this news,” Reeves said. “We’re hoping some retirement will pad that as well.”
The cuts will impact class sizes in varying degrees. Stevenson said that over the past three years, average classroom sizes of 20 have risen — and the money-trimming could increase numbers to as high as 27.
Employees would take a 3 percent pay cut and lose six workdays, two of them “student contact” days.
“This is absolutely the best that could have been done under the circumstances,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jeffco teachers union. “This is really important that we were able to come together and come up with these cuts. None of us like them. But we’re a team in Jeffco.”
The package includes an annual transportation fee of $150 for bus riders, with a $175 fee for students who attend option schools, including Warren Tech and D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High.
Athletic fees, now $125 annually, would increase by an amount not yet determined.
Also, the district would close Martensen and Zerger elementary schools in Arvada to save about $300,000 per school per year. Both have been on a proposed list of possible closures.
Ending an annual week-long outdoor lab at district facilities at Mount Evans and Windy Peak would save about $900,000 per year. That cut proved painful, Stevenson said, because nearly every Jeffco sixth-grader has participated since 1962.
She said that if the community organized to find private funding for the program, “we’d be more than willing to work with them.”
The summit process that produced the proposal grew out of a national conference on labor- management collaboration held in Denver last month.
Jeffco’s representatives included Stevenson, Dallman of the teachers union and board president Dave Thomas. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to slash $332 million from the K-12 budget was announced on the first day of the conference.
“We looked at each other and said that the way we’ve done negotiations is not going to work with this crisis facing us,” Dallman recalled. “We needed to do something different.”
They learned at the gathering that a district in Montgomery County, Md., had hashed out a budget by bringing employee groups together, and they decided to try a similar strategy in Colorado.
Last weekend, the school board, teachers union, the Colorado Classified School Employees Association and the Jefferson County Administrators Association met with a federal mediator for 17 hours of negotiation.
“It certainly was a gratifying experience to be on the same team,” Stevenson said. “As we looked at what was good for schools, the district, the community, kids and employees, it wasn’t each union defending and protecting their own membership. It was, ‘How do we make our schools run?’ ”
-Kevin Simpson. Photo: Critical Thinking