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Educational pennypinching

by Jaye Sudar

    Governor Ritter has cut $260 million out of the state K-12 budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year.  This equates to a 4.6% cut, the first one in years for education.  While Amendment 23 protected the educational budget for years, the state has decided to change the factors used to calculate the formula meant to equalize funding between school districts.

    Amendment 23 is supposed to guarantee a 1% increase plus the rate of inflation.  This formula is used to make sure that school districts in high cost areas or those that have a high number of at-risk students get the money needed to operate.  However, the changes in the formula now include the school district′s cost of living, the number of at-risk students and the total enrollment.  Another suggestions is to cut the cost of living factor and create some new factor so that no district suffers.

    What does this mean to the average rural school district like Re-1 or Re-2? For next year, each district will have approximately $180 less per student.  This could mean a total loss of $154,000 for both districts combined next year.  That is equal to the cost of four new teachers as they generally receive the lowest pay.  Huerfano County has a low cost of living due to a variety of factors.  It also has a number of at-risk students, a figure usually calculated by how many children are on free or reduced lunches.  While it is cheap to live here, people tend to make less money than in Denver or Boulder.  The bind is this:  once again, school districts must make do with less.

    What can the school districts do?  A combination of cuts may be used.  Bigger classes, fewer electives or programs, and fees for athletics and field trips are a few of the possibilities.  As salaries take up 75% or more of the budget, rural districts will be analyzing how retirements may affect their budget.  A teacher at the high end of the pay scale who retires may fund two or three new teachers.  Or, a retirement may free up the money necessary to keep a program.

    Then there are grants.  Every school district will be competing for grants.  School districts will have to be creative.  While this next round of cuts may be dealt with through retirements or creative funding, the budgetary shortfalls are due to last until 2014.  Each school district will have to deal with issues within the district and decide where they can cut money.  It may also be a time for members of the community to step forward; there may be no better time then right now to start volunteering in our schools.

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