I have a fourth and a first grader who attend a Jefferson County School. It shouldn’t be a news flash to anyone that our school districts across the state have faced deep cuts to their budgets for the past several years. These cuts have been felt across the board as the economy has waned and the state budget crisis has intensified. I have realized that although I follow the surface information of these cuts and crisis, I haven’t dug deeper to really understand what is affecting our schools and the reasons behind them. This past year I have devoted time to really understanding what is happening with our schools.
Jeffco Schools is the largest district in Colorado with almost 86,000 students and 154 schools. It is also the largest employer in Jefferson County with over 12,000 full and part time employees. The district invests more than $1 billion annually into the county’s economy.
In early February, I attended a district budget update held by Superintendent Dr. Cindy Stevenson. Dr. Stevenson has more than 37 years in Jeffco as a teacher, principal and deputy superintendent. She has been superintendent since 2002 and is also a Jeffco alumni.
During her update, Dr. Stevenson said the outlook for the next two years is bleak, with hopes that things will start to turn upward again in 2014/2015. She was meeting with different teachers, principals and parents to share where the district stands and their visions to survive the next few years. The district also held several community meetings and many people attended School Board meetings.
I was really impressed with Dr. Stevenson. She seems genuinely concerned about ensuring the students of Jefferson County continue to receive a solid education, while also understanding the importance of keeping a quality of life for the district’s employees. She was very personable and allowed everyone in the room the opportunity to ask her an anonymous question, of which she answered every single one.
In mid-February I attended a meeting with Jefferson County School Board of Education President, Lesley Dalhkemper. She spoke to a small group of parents at my children’s elementary school about the upcoming budget woes the school district faces. She said people have been coming out in droves to school board meetings to share where there passions lie and help protect those programs that they feel are most important.
In 2011/2012 teachers agreed on a 2% pay cut along with furlough days which amounted to 1% of their salary with a total of a 3% cut.
The school board recently released their plan for the 2012/2013 school year, saving cuts in the classroom and jobs. The district must cut almost $20 million from its budget for the next school year.
“We asked our community what they valued and it was teachers, along with music, arts, and teacher librarians. I’m pleased to say that we listened and have saved those jobs for at least one more year,” said Dahlkemper.
Employees agreed to continue with furlough days and the 2% pay cut, which will save $5 million. The Board will also take an additional $5 million from the district’s savings account to help offset reductions. The remaining $7 million in cuts will come from central staff and administration.
Here is a list from the district’s website of what will happen in Jeffco in 2012/2013, keeping in mind, the system is in an ever-changing and evolving situation. Changes to state budget funding, individual employee status, individual school budgets and more will have an impact on where the budget will finally get approved in May or June.
- There are no planned reductions to teachers, elementary music teachers, teacher librarians or counselors for the 2012-2013 school year.
- Funding for the district’s Outdoor Lab schools will continue for one more year under a sustainability plan supported by the Outdoor Lab Foundation and the district.
- Free full-day kindergarten will continue for some Jeffco schools.
- The two furlough days implemented last year will continue for the 2012-2013 school year for all Jeffco employees.
- In total, Jeffco employees have taken a three percent compensation reduction over the past two years.
- The outcome of the summit is a tentative recommendation which is subject to approval by the Board of Education.
The two furlough days will result in a reduction of days that kids are in the classroom to 173.
Dahlkemper does warn that the worst is yet to come in the 2013/2014 school year. The district will have to cut up to $43 million with the potential of up to 600 jobs lost including those to teachers, teacher librarians, music teachers and counselors. The Outdoor Lab program will also be cut.
So what can we all do to help support our schools and ensure that all children receive a solid education? The answer is to get educated on these topics yourself then get involved. At the school level, community level, district level, neighborhood level or all four. We all have a voice and in Jefferson County, the school superintendent and school board are listening. We are all on the same page. The challenge is finding the funding and backing initiatives to support it.
Some in Jefferson County are asking the school district to explore a mill levy in November 2012. A mill levy will help offset budget costs, but will take a financial backing to get it off the ground and then a strong voter support to push it through. If you think a mill levy is the answer, get out into your neighborhood and start garnering support. The last mill levy in 2008 was defeated by voters. The last time voters passed a mill in Jefferson County was in 2004.
The school board has done a solid job in keeping the cuts out of the classroom so far. Some say they have yet to feel the affect of the cuts and the reductions are just making the district lean and efficient. But are the cuts really just tightening the belt or are they being felt across the board? Step into any school in Jefferson County and you will see how the cuts are directly affecting students, parents, employees and the classroom. In my next post, I will explore how the already $55 million in reductions are taking their toll.
Important note: Want to make a difference? Don’t miss the mill levy meeting at the school board on Thursday.