Re-2 board to consider superintendent contract on Tuesday
The Garfield School District Re-2 Board of Education appears poised to approve a contract on Tuesday with Brent Curtice, the man tapped by the school board to be the new superintendent.
The board convened for a special meeting this past Monday and adjourned for a brief executive session to discuss the contract.
The three board members in attendance — Anne Guettler, Jay Rickstrew and Jacquelyn Johnson — returned from the roughly 13-minute executive session and directed staff to add consideration of the contract as an action item on Tuesday’s agenda.
“Yes, the board and Mr. Curtice have agreed on the terms and we will take formal action to approve the contract on Tuesday,” Guettler said in an email.
Prior to the special meeting on Monday, board members and Curtice, currently superintendent of Moffat County School District Re-1, reported that contract negotiations were moving along smoothly.
“Everything is going well, and I am eager to finish the contract and move forward,” Curtice said on Feb. 26.
Although an agreed-to contract would include an official start date of July 1, Curtice’s proximity allows him the ability to start familiarizing himself with the district in person. That was not the key selling point in selecting Curtice, but it did factor in favorably, Guettler said shortly after the board unanimously agreed to enter into contract negotiations on Feb. 16.
There is a desire among both parties to finalize the contract so that work can begin on some crucial and pressing issues facing the district.
Teacher and staff retention rates, along with infrastructure needs that are growing increasingly critical due to deferred maintenance, continue to weigh heavily in board discussions. The two topics were central in some of the questioning during the board’s interviews in February with the three finalists for the superintendent position.
Both issues have roots in the district’s current financial situation, a matter that officials say continues to grow gloomier due to discrepancies in state funding. That gap stems from cuts to overall state funding for schools in order to shore up other budgetary shortfalls — a practice commonly referred to as the “negative factor.”
The practice cut nearly $3.7 billion in funding to school districts statewide from 2011-12 to 2014-15, according to the Colorado School Finance Project. Over that same time period, Garfield Re-2 has seen an average annual cut of $4.9 million.
Implementation of the “negative factor” by the state in fiscal year 2009-10 coupled with voters rejection of a mill levy for Garfield Re-2 in 2011 led the board at the time to adopt a policy of deficit spending.
That decision to dip into reserves, which totaled $14.2 million at the end of 2010-11, according to district budget documents, was made in order to stave off budget cuts — talks at the time included the potential closure of Kathryn Senor Elementary in New Castle and Wamsley Elementary in Rifle.
Consequently the district has deficit spent in the neighborhood of $1 million per year. However, due to a board policy requiring a minimum reserve balance of $8 million — an amount that Christy Hamrick, district finance director, has said is a prudent number necessary for maintaining bond ratings and making sure the district can pay its bills without needing to borrow money — the trend of deficit spending cannot continue indefinitely.
Eventually, the district is either going to have to reduce costs, increase revenue or land on some combination of the two, Hamrick has said.
While board members have vaguely discussed the idea of a future mill levy or bond issue, any decision would likely be some time in the future. Additionally, the board wanted to bring on a new superintendent before diving too deeply into a discussion on a possible request of the taxpayers, Guettler previously said.
In an interview the day he was named the district’s finalist for the position, Curtice said the challenges facing the district did not discourage him from pursuing the job.
“(In) every challenge lies opportunity to grow and get better and I look forward to that,” he said.
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