Putting the Roaring Fork School District budget deficit into context
The Roaring Fork School District was not immune to the financial challenges in the 2020/2021 school year caused by the pandemic. However, Nathan Markham the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said the last time RFSD experienced a budget deficit like the one happening this year was back in 2011/2012.
“The situations were different … this all came basically after April 1. We didn’t think it was very prudent to make hasty financial decisions, so we used the one-time funding available to us and the reserves to get through this year,” Markham said.
There was a total deficit of $2.6 million cut in spending due to a 5% decrease in per-pupil funding at the state level. The 2011/2012 school year showed an enrollment drop of about 160 students total, and although at the time the Re-1 board wasn’t expecting any more declines in enrollment, they were dealt the per-pupil cut based on the average of the past three years. In order to offset future budget cuts, Re-1 voted for a mill levy that passed with 59% of voters in favor and provided the district with a $4.8 million override measure.
It was this kind of planning ahead that Markham mentioned in a previous interview that has helped the RFSD stay afloat and continue to provide quality education to its students despite unforeseen budget reductions. Markham stepped into the role of CFO in 2020, prior to the pandemic, and said he continues to look at the big-picture for the budget and which resources can be protected rather than looking to make immediate cuts.
“We got two new rounds of federal funding coming. The December (CRRSAA) Act that was passed contains funding, approx $1.8 million, and the American rescue plan will contain additional money. But that’s all just one-time funding so it doesn’t fix our ongoing structural, recurring revenue deficit,” Markham said.
For the 2011/2012 school year, the budget deficit affected the three-county school district financially in the following ways:
• A 1% across-the-board pay cut for all district and school-level administrators;
• Two furlough days, or equivalent pay cut, for all employees;
• A continued freeze on annual wage increases;
• A $222,000, or 22 percent, cut in classroom materials and supplies budgets;
• $107,273 in District Office cuts, including an accountant position and reductions in hours for three district-level support staff; and,
• A 1 percent across-the-board pay cut for all district and school-level administrators; The elimination of 13 teaching positions within the reduction of 76 full- and part-time staff positions across the district.
Despite the hardships posed by this past-pandemic year, Markham said there have been no layoffs or reductions made to the staff. Looking ahead, Markham had alluded to the possibility of another deficit taking place in the 2021/2022 school year, but with almost a ten-year gap between the current deficit and the one before it, he said it likely won’t be anything the district can’t handle.
“I think at this point we’re going to mind our expenses like we did this year. The one time funds will certainly help bridge the gap because we have a lot of uncertainty, especially around student counts. So we’re being mindful and trimming our expenses where we can without harming our programming and (staff).”
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Two members of the public told the Roaring Fork School District Board last week that they feel voiceless when it comes to district hiring processes.