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

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.

Jefferson County School Board Keeps Cuts Out of the Classrooms for 2012/2013 School Year

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.