Cortez schools face $750,000 shortfall

Superintendent: Reliance on reserves can’t continue

Carter Enlarge photo

Carter

The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District may face a budget deficit of up to $750,000 this year, potentially eating into the district’s savings for a fifth consecutive year.

“The budget is not in good shape, but it’s not our fault,” said Superintendent Alex Carter. “We’re simply not funded appropriately.”

The projected $750,000 shortfall is a worst-case scenario, Carter said. At the end of the year, any remaining line-item appropriations would be transferred back to the general fund to help offset the deficit, possibly reducing it to only $250,000 for the fiscal year, Carter said.

“We’re spending the money smart,” Carter said. “We’re spending it on our students and their needs.”

Even with the end-of-year transfer, Carter said the district could not continue operating under a deficit, as it has every year since 2009. Described as a short-term spending strategy, Carter said the savings eventually would disappear.

“If we keep tapping our reserves, we will be broke within four years,” he said.

Colorado lawmakers have slashed education funding across the state by $1.2 billion since 2009, Carter said. The district’s share of those lost revenues is about $3 million, including the latest legislative cut of $212,000 for this fiscal year, which was announced in December.

Despite legislative cuts, which totaled more than $3.3 million across the state this year, the largest factor contributing to the district’s projected deficit is increased health costs, which is projected at $400,000 for the fiscal year, district Finance Director Wendy Everett said.

The legislative cuts, known as the “negative factor,” have reduced annual per-pupil spending across the district to a low of $6,309. Average per-pupil funding in Colorado is $7,534.

In Dolores, per-pupil funding is $6,946. In Mancos, it is $7,975.

“Both Mancos and Dolores voters have approved mill levy overrides,” Carter said. “That’s why they have more money to spend on students.”

If Cortez voters approved an override, Carter said he’d want to use the extra funding to extend the school year and increase school security and student access to technology.

“These three things we will need forever,” Carter said. “These needs aren’t going away.”

District officials are exploring the idea of proposing a mill levy increase, which would require voter approval. At 18.933, the district’s current mill levy generates $850,000 annually for local school funding.

“It’s up to the people to decide whether students are a resource to invest in or if they are a drain on resources,” Carter said.

Carter said he thinks most of the community would support a tax increase.

“The people should invest in these kids because they never leave,” he said. “They are, literally, this community’s future.”

The district also is working to form a financial advisory committee that would explore other potential revenue streams. One idea that’s surfaced is looking into the possibility of receiving funds from casino revenues.

Everett encouraged residents to be proactive.

“Our parents, our moms and dads, they need to demand their legislators restore education funding,” she said.

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