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Think the Budget Cuts Aren’t Hurting Your Children? Here’s a Breakdown in Funding

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Part I

Budget cuts here, budget cuts there, teachers’ jobs threatened, bond issues considered. The tough economic climate has put considerable strains on Colorado’s state budget. Shrinking tax revenues cause the state government funds to dwindle causing the state to reevaluate their spending plans.

In my last post, I explained what Jefferson County Public Schools will do next year to offset the deficit.

In this post, I’m going to explain how the district and school budgets work on the elementary school level. In my next post, I will explain how this budget works and how it effects day to day life in the school.

The shrinking state budget has directly affected public education funding. Where the state used to give $7,500 per pupil per year to each school district in Colorado, that amount is now closer to $6,100. It doesn’t sound like a lot, until you multiply it by the total number. In Jefferson County, that’s $1,300 per student times 86,000 students. For you mathematicians out there, that’s a loss of $111.8 million in one year.

The districts also receive money from the county tax base, Title money, federal money and other grants, however, the state money greatly effects how much money the district has to spend.

All school districts across Colorado have been hit hard by the cuts, but none more than Jeffco, the largest district.

Parents agree that the budget cuts are deep and severe, but few really understand their meaning. Some have said the cuts must not be as severe as the district has warned, because they have yet to personally feel them. Some have said this is good for the districts, forcing them to tighten their belts and run a lean program.

The districts are lean and do run a tight ship. Teachers do not make huge salaries nor are schools wasting money. Whether you directly feel it or not, the cuts are touching all of us and especially our children.

Here is how each dollar is spent in Jeffco:

Most districts have reserves or saving accounts for rainy days. It’s pouring now, so many districts, including Jeffco are tapping into those funds to help alleviate the deeper cuts. Just like when you take money out of savings to pay the mortgage, that money is gone and no longer available. Using the rainy day money helps in the short-term, but it isn’t a solution.

I spoke with Ellynor Martinez, a principal at Rooney Ranch Elementary in Jeffco, about the cuts in funding and what it means to a school at the elementary level.

Martinez says the schools are under great pressure to cover mounting expenses with a shrinking budget. She broke down how much money each school receives and how they spend the money.

The individual schools do not pay teacher’s salaries. The district handles all salary negotiations and pays the teachers out of their budget. This allows the district to control hiring high quality and proficient teachers to balance all schools vs allowing schools to adjust their budgets based on teachers.

Out of the $6,100 per pupil money that the district gets from the state, they give elementary schools $75 per student in 1-6th grade and $37.50 for each kinder student for their general fund.

October 1st is a very important  day for schools, when each student in attendance is counted and they receive funding based on enrollment that day.

Out of that general fund, the school must cover everything in the building – books, educational magazines like Scholastic News, science materials, curriculum materials, desks, tables, chairs and pencils.

The district pays utilities but the schools are responsible for things like deductibles if a window is broken.

The school district also gives each school $34 per pupil per year for technology. The school is under great scrutiny by the district as to how they spend this money to stay current in technology. They must budget and choose which laptops, computers and smart boards they will replace and update each year. They must alternate computers so that they update a few each year but aren’t updating the entire collection in one year.

Of the $10 technology fee that parents pay in the beginning of the year, $5 stays at the school and $5 goes to the district. If a family chooses not to pay the fee, the school must still pay that $5 to the district out of their general fund.

Sure, students can use older and slower computers, but they need to also be current on technology studies. Technology is constantly changing and moving forward. Our children need to stay current and not fall behind in the technology curve. Think about where technology was even just two years ago. Do you want your student learning that technology or staying with the times?

The $75 plus $34 equals $109 per pupil per year that the schools receive to spend for the year. At Rooney, that’s an operating budget of about $42,000.

This is the reason they ask parents to donate a ream of paper and box of Kleenex at the beginning of the year.

The schools can benefit from additional funds like grant money, PTA fundraising efforts or building use fees. They rent out space to extra curricular sports leagues, after school care and other revenue generators. Martinez says the money that the building use fees bring in barely covers the cost of toilet paper and paper towels the group uses. It doesn’t cover the custodial staff needed to clean up after the groups leave.

The one thing that absolutely shocked me was that some parents do not pay the school fees at the beginning of the year. These are not families that qualify for reduced lunch, these are families that for one reason or another simply choose to opt out of the fees.

The school receives $150 per student who qualifies for free and reduced lunch in federal money to help offset costs of lunch, field trips and school fees.

If you opt out of paying school fees or field trip fees, you hurt the school. The schools won’t refuse an education or a field trip for your child, so again, they must pay out of their general fund to get that student a Scholastic News, or trip to the museum or pencil.

What Can I Do?
  • Every cost, every need goes back to the school general fund. It’s important that families and those in the community do what they can to support their local schools. If your family can afford to pay the fees and field trip costs, please send the check so the school does not need to tap into an already tight budget.
  • Talk to your neighbors, friends and community members. Jeffco is an aging community with 65% of households without children. When those without children ask why they must pay for other people’s children to go to school, explain that they are investing in their community and its future. These children will be future doctors, business people and government leaders. If they are not educated, crime goes up and all of our futures suffer.
  • Attend community, school, district and school board meetings. Get involved. Suggest ideas and encourage others to get involved. Solving this problem will take everyone in the community whether you are in Jeffco or another Colorado school district to do their part and invest in our children and our future.
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