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Roaring Fork Schools’ spending on bilingual communications addressed during budget discussion

Board adopts $114.8 million 2021-22 budget

Equity, and how that plays into school district communications with primarily Spanish-speaking families, became a topic of discussion as the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education approved the 2021-22 district budget Wednesday night.

The discussion came at the request of board member Jasmin Ramirez, who offered a motion to allocate an extra $5,000 for each district school to provide timely Spanish translation of information in emergency situations.

It also came after diversity, equity and inclusion for all students and families was a major topic of discussion during a day-long board retreat, followed by a presentation from the district’s Equity Steering Committee.



Although the board, on a 3-1 vote, rejected Ramirez’s motion, it agreed to further the conversation about improving bilingual communications to start the new school year in August.

“I believe it’s really important that we recognize our demographics here, and whether our budget is supporting all of our students,” Ramirez said, citing recent statistics that show Latino students now make up a majority of the district’s student population, at 55%, while 35% of the district’s students are classified as English language learners.



While the district has made strides to meet the needs of those students and their families, Ramirez said she worries about critical information not getting to them quickly during a time-sensitive emergency event.

District staff noted there is already dedicated funding within the district’s $78.3 million general fund budget to cover emergency communications and other bilingual translation and interpretation needs.

Those efforts were expanded in the last year due to some of the routine communications that needed to be sent out related to COVID-19 quarantines, they said.

Any additional funds would bolster what’s already in the budget, said Nathan Markham, chief financial officer for the district. But finding where to pull any extra money for budgeting purposes would take some time, and the budget needs to be approved before the end of June, he and several board members pointed out. The school board is not slated to meet again until Aug. 11.

The general fund is part of the overall $114.8 million 2021-22 budget approved by the school board Wednesday, also on a 3-1 vote with Ramirez in dissent.

She pressed the board to make it a priority to have that follow-up discussion and ensure there’s a greater expectation around bilingual communications.

“What I don’t want to happen is that we don’t … have those conversations, and then we have a situation where we’re asking why this or that message didn’t go out in Spanish,” Ramirez said.

Carbondale resident Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas, who attended the local schools, also spoke to the issue from his experience.

“I was the one tasked with translating for my parents at meetings and parent-teacher conferences and with different documents when I was growing up,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to have those interpretation and translation services be part of the budget.”

Kelsy Been, public information officer for the school district, said some federal funding should come available that might allow for additional interpretation/translation services. But the district would need to put together a plan to qualify for that funding, which won’t happen until fall, she said.

Board member Maureen Stepp acknowledged the importance of continuing the discussion in August, but didn’t want to hold up the budget approval to do it.

“I would like for us to come up with some options, whether there’s money in reserves or some one-time funding, to figure out how to work this into the budget,” she said, adding that will also allow time to get a better handle on costs.

Meanwhile, the district budget approval came literally just hours after the Colorado Legislature approved the School Finance Act for the coming fiscal year, Markham said.

The budget outlook is much better than what the district was anticipating earlier in the year due to forecast shortfalls in state spending on education, he said.

Instead, the Roaring Fork Schools will see a $5.3 million, or 8.6%, increase in general fund revenues over 2020-21 projections. That includes an increase in recurring revenues to restore lost funding, plus $1.4 million in one-time funds, Markham said.

Per-pupil state funding is to increase from $7,225 to $9,289 for the district, which includes public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The budget includes a carryover reserve amount of $16 million, Markham said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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