New Rifle school budgeted to operate at a deficit to start
RIFLE, Colorado – New expenses related to opening a new school, enrollment declines tied to the economic downturn and state budget concerns have added up to some budget challenges for the Garfield Re-2 School District heading into the new school year.
The Re-2 school board last month approved a “worst-case scenario” $39 million budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The budget includes a $1.3 million operating deficit that could carry over into next year as well.
As with many other school districts around the state, the budget does not include salary schedule increases for teachers and staff. Wage increases for teachers earning continuing education credits will be given, however.
“It is a very conservative budget,” Re-2 Finance Director Christine Hamrick said. “We continue to have a very fiscally solvent school district, and have done a good job of managing our funds.”
However, “Like the municipalities and other entities in this area, we have done a lot of planning based on a substantial growth curve,” she said.
A $74.9 million bond issue approved by district voters in 2006 included new school buildings to replace aging facilities in Silt, New Castle and Rifle. The final project that was part of that bond package is a brand new elementary school opening in Rifle when school resumes next month.
Graham Mesa Elementary School will be Rifle’s third elementary school, combining students from the existing Highland and Wamsley elementary schools which both saw enrollment climb above 500 students last school year.
The school is still needed and still expected to open with around 330 students, district officials contend. However, the new school will result in an additional $850,000 in expenses for new administrative, maintenance and support staff.
“That’s how we passed the bond issue,” Hamrick said of the growth in district-wide school enrollment due in large part to the booming oil and gas industry.
“Now, what we’ve had to grapple with is a balance between what we promised voters with the bond issue to open and operate new schools, and react to what’s happened with the economy,” she said.
Added Theresa Hamilton, district communications director, “Despite the fact that it’s a pretty challenging budget year we’ve done everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t impact the classroom.”
The district’s 2009-10 budget, along with a narrative explaining the decisions involved, is posted on the district website at http://www.garfieldre2.k12.co.us, under the Administration/Finance menu.
“The district aims to balance its recurring budget each year to assure financial stability,” according to the budget narrative.
Due to the added expenses and no anticipated increase in revenues from the state, the district anticipates a deficit of $1.3 million.
“The Board of Education and administration are committed to reducing that deficit over the next two years to insure the continued financial stability of Re-2,” according to the narrative.
Unlike the neighboring Roaring Fork Re-1 School District, Re-2 is not budgeting for any increase in state funding and no increase in student enrollment.
That could be the wild card that will help the district erase the deficit, Hamrick said.
As it stands, the district has not budgeted for any enrollment increase.
And, although the state has said that school districts will see at least a 2.9 percent increase in funding, and possibly more, Re-2 chose to budget for no increase in state funding.
“There are so many uncertain variables,” Hamrick added. “So, we wanted to see how things played out at the state level.”
Re-2 saw a decline in enrollment of about 4.6 percent between the Oct. 1, 2008 official pupil count and the May county near the end of the school year.
“The normal decline from October to May is below 2 percent,” according to Hamrick, adding it’s an indication that enrollment may continue to decline.
“This decline is attributed to the significant economic downturn due to a lack of construction and oil and gas development, reducing the availability of jobs in the area,” she said in her budget narrative.
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With some students performing below their actual grade level, Garfield Re-2 School District leaders spent Monday’s board meeting asking themselves how they can improve the district’s quality of education.