A bit of good budgetary news finally came for Durango School District 9-R after the introduction of the School Finance Act in the Colorado General Assembly on Friday.
Instead of cutting an additional $4.2 million to meet reductions in state funding, 9-R is now looking at making only $1.2 million in additional cuts.
The district has already trimmed about $5 million from the current budget to deal with revenue losses expected in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fewer cuts will be needed because the School Finance Act now calls for a 5% reduction in 9-R’s state dollars for school year 2020-21 compared with as much as a 15% reduction the district had been bracing for only a month ago.
The district’s 2019-20 budget had total expenditures of $58.18 million.
“It’s kind of sad that we’re having some small celebration about cutting only $1.2 million instead of $4.2 million,” Superintendent Dan Snowberger said in a telephone interview before he reviewed the budget at a school board meeting Tuesday night.
The district is in a much better position to avoid taking drastic actions that would have been required if state dollars had decreased by 15%, Snowberger said.
Among the first actions that had been contemplated that likely will no longer be necessary is the need for employees to take furlough days.
Five furlough days would have saved the district about $1 million.
However, it was the most unpalatable recommendation under consideration for everyone from the Durango Education Association and the Durango Education Support Professionals to the Financial Advisory Committee to principals and administrators.
“We’re trying to keep cuts as far away from our schools as possible. That’s what were trying to do,” Snowberger said.
Another extreme action likely off the board for next school year would be the temporary closure of any low-enrollment schools.
Snowberger said low-enrollment schools may have to adjust procedures to keep them economically viable in the future, but temporary closures for 2020-21 would not be required.
“Closing a school is extremely painful. It’s painful when you have time to plan for it. It’s even more painful when you don’t,” he said.
Still, in the future some elementary schools in the district might need to look at cost-saving measures.
“Small schools may have to think about multi-age classrooms and look at other creative actions they can take to remain viable,” he said.
Not all the budget news was good.
The district is now working on the assumption that enrollment will drop by 200 students for the 2020-21 school year.
The district had been planning on 100 fewer students next year.
However, based on surveys of families and the number of families the district has been unable to contact to determine if they will remain in the area next year, the enrollment loss projection has grown, Snowberger said.
“We are going to produce a budget assuming we’ll be 200 students down. It may not be enough, but it will be closer than 100 students,” Snowberger said.
School Board President Shere Byrd said given variables to create a budget in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic she expected several amendments to the budget will be needed during the upcoming year to deal with unforeseen events.
“Given the uncertainty of the times, having to amend the budget more than once would not be surprising,” she said.
Ideally, Snowberger said the budget picture would continue to improve through the year, giving the district the ability to provide teachers and staff with some relief to compensate for the sacrifices they are currently making.