Re-1 schools face deep budget cuts
School officials in the Roaring Fork Valley learned Tuesday they will be forced to make significant cuts next year – possibly including layoffs of teachers – because of state budget cuts.
The school district that includes Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs will have to make about $3 million in cuts for the 2011-12 academic year, said Shannon Pelland, assistant superintendent, business services for the Re-1 School District.
“It will create a lot of angst among our staff and our parents,” Pelland said.
Aspen Superintendent John Maloy estimated the district will be required to pare $300,000 to $400,000 out of its budget for next year.
The cuts would be much more severe for Aspen if voters hadn’t approved a mill levy override in November. That measure allows the district to collect more in property taxes. In 2011, that will mean an estimated $1.35 million in extra revenues, Maloy said.
That will ease but won’t completely offset the pain from state budget cuts. “We are lucky in that regard, compared to many school districts in Colorado,” Maloy said.
Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled a revised 2011-12 budget to the Legislature Tuesday that included a $332 million total net reduction in funding for K-12 public education from the current year. The loss will be $497 per student on a statewide average. Each individual school district will be higher or lower than that average because they receive different amounts of school aid.
“Make no mistake, the choices we are making today will hurt,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.
Hickenlooper was elected in November and took office in January. His predecessor, Bill Ritter, proposed a budget that didn’t cut K-12 education funding as much. Word had leaked in recent weeks that Hickenlooper planned to cut education much more severely.
“It’s looking radically different,” Pelland said. “We will be talking a whole different story for next year.”
State funding for public schools fell 6.3 percent for the current school year. Up until recently, it looked like the cuts would only be 1.5 percent or less for next year, Pelland said. School districts were “blindsided” with news last week of deeper state cuts, she said.
Re-1 school administrators were told Monday to expect deep cuts for next year. They shared the news with teachers.
Pelland said it is too soon to give parents an idea of how their children’s education will be altered. “It will affect just about everything we do,” she said.
Some familiar faces could be gone. Class sizes will increase as class opportunities decrease. Bus service could be cut or ended. Again, Pelland said, no decisions have been made yet.
Re-1 pared $1.04 million out of its budget last year without any layoffs of teachers. However, salaries were frozen for the second straight year.
Pelland said the school district has no choice this year but to look at personnel. Salaries and benefits comprise 85 percent of the budgets for both the Re-1 and Aspen school districts.
Cuts at Re-1 will likely be made on a pro rata basis. Glenwood Springs schools account for 47 percent of the student population in the district. Basalt accounts for 28 percent and Carbondale 25 percent.
Basalt High School Principal Kevin Schott said staff cuts will be made through attrition when possible. Teachers retire or move to other jobs every year, he said. His staff includes several members who are qualified to teach courses other than what they are teaching now, he said. Some teachers might be asked to take over teaching duties of courses that aren’t necessarily their first choice.
“We will likely make some moves within the staff we have,” Schott said.
The degree of the necessary cuts is obviously affecting morale. The state’s budget issues have been like a slow train wreck – observers knew it was coming, but it was still a shock when it occurred.
“I think many people expected something was coming. [But] to that degree, maybe not,” Schott said.
Out of necessity, “everything is on the table,” Schott said. However, he believes the success of his students goes beyond education in the “big four” of math, science, social studies and language. Music, art, athletics and other offering are also valuable in education.
“I am going to work as much as possible to preserve those,” he said.
Maloy said the importance of the vote on the mill levy override in November couldn’t be overstated. The Aspen district was forced to make $1.2 million in cuts last year. Without the extra local property tax revenues, it would be looking at another $1.2 million or more this year.
Nevertheless, the additional cuts will be tough for 2011-12. Like the downvalley district, the Aspen district already pared “the low hanging fruit” while avoiding layoffs.
The new cuts will like affect have some effect on personnel. “We’re not overly optimistic we’ll be able to keep it out of the classroom,” Maloy said.
School districts typically try to get budget proposals out by late March or early April, and approved by school boards in early June. The window to work on budgets was compressed because of Hickenlooper’s late budget revisions. Administrators and teachers will be working overtime on planning issues over the next two months. Schott said parents can get involved immediately by joining the accountability committees at their schools.
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