Garfield Re-2 approves budget
Citizen Telegram Contributor
The Garfield Re-2 Board of Education approved the 2015-16 district budget without dissent June 23, but with a third straight year of deficit spending following cuts that included the implementation of a four-day school week, district officials are warning that the current spending pattern is unsustainable.
The 2015-16 Re-2 budget — which had to be approved by July 1 to avoid a 10 percent reduction in promised state funding — tops out at $41 million, leaving a $910,000 overall projected deficit.
With inflation driving the cost of educating and feeding students steadily up, and no additional revenue coming from the state or local tax base, the district has had to tap into reserves to cover the discrepancy for a third straight year.
As Christine Hamrick, director of finance for Re-2, warned just minutes before the vote, there’s a “brick wall” coming in just a few years. Very soon, she said, the district must find new sources of revenue or substantially reduce its services.
Even more worrisome for Re-2 is the ever widening “negative factor” created by the inherent conflict between the Colorado Tax Payers Bill of Rights and state Amendment 23, which was meant to keep state educational funding commensurate with inflation.
RE-2’s negative factor stands at $4.65 million per year. Hamrick asserted that the district has lost seven years worth of revenue to inflation. It was the negative factor that led to the voter referendum mill levy of 2011 — a year in which four other school districts in the region also had mill levies on the ballot. Nearly 63 percent of voters that year rejected the mill levy, forcing further cuts that ultimately included going to a four-day school week.
The district first began deficit spending during the 2013-14 school year. That year, Re-2 came up $1 million short of it’s projected budget. Hamrick believes that for the foreseeable future, the negative factor makes a certain amount of deficit spending necessary, because deeper budget cuts, “would be problematic for our kids and our staff.”
Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton added, “All we’re doing right now is maintenance of effort. We’re not expanding by leaps and bounds … In order for us to maintain our schools, we’re deficit spending to the tune of about a million dollars. That will end at some point.”
According to Hamrick, that end will likely come in 2018-19, when the steady bleed out of deficit spending will deplete the district’s reserves below the predetermined minimum level of $8 million.
Hamilton remains hopeful about the current budget quandary, but she said she also is a realist. At the end of the day, you either have to raise revenue or cut expenses.
“We continue to work with our legislators to talk about creative solutions regarding funding,” she said. “That is an open dialogue that our current superintendent has with legislators.”
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A continued decline in natural gas industry activity in Garfield County resulted in fewer members and fewer complaints from residents over the past year for Community Counts Colorado.