The Durango School District 9-R Board of Education unanimously adopted a $56.6 million budget for 2020-21 that includes cuts to account for $3.6 million in reduced state funding and $1.6 million in reduced income from an expected 200-student decline in enrollment.
“It’s been a difficult road, but we were anticipating a much tougher road. We had initially estimated we would need to cut $9.5 million. Still, none of these were easy decisions,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger told board members at their meeting Tuesday held online on Zoom.
The budget compares with the current $62.5 million budget for school year 2019-20.
State revenue decreased by $6.2 million for next school year as the Colorado General Assembly cut budgets, including funding for K-12 education, to address a $3.3 billion shortfall in revenue caused by a decrease in tax collections after COVID-19 health restrictions brought the economy to a crawl.
Further budget reductions of $1.6 million beyond the loss in state equalization funds had to be found because the district anticipates it will enroll 200 fewer students next year as families leave the area because of economic disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus.
The district did receive $2.6 million one-time federal assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security to help soften the blow of lost state revenue, but restrictions are included on how that money can be spent.
The 2020-21 budget also will tap $750,000 from the general fund reserve to cushion the blow of lost state revenue. 9-R Chief Financial Officer Samantha Gallagher cautioned that dipping into the general fund reserve will bring the reserve balance to 13%, which is below the state’s recommended amount of 15% of general fund expenditures.
Board President Shere Byrd said the unusual circumstances of 2020 and the economic crunch caused by efforts to slow COVID-19 likely means budget discussions are not at an end.
“It’s clear to me we are going to have to revisit our budget multiple times just because of the things that are going on,” she said.
Some yet unanticipated costs that could affect the budget include expenses to restart next year based on COVID-19 and further budget cuts from the state if revenue projections turnout to be too rosy.
Further state budget cuts would almost be guaranteed if a wave of COVID-19 infections in the fall or winter force health officials and Gov. Jared Polis to order more closures and lockdowns.
The budget includes no salary increases for teachers and staff, a hiring freeze and a 10% cut in central office operating budgets.
Seventeen positions in the central administrative office have been eliminated for next year, and 20 central office administrators also plan to take five furlough days next year.
The most difficult budget cut was the nonrenewal of nine positions at 9-R schools. The nonrenewal of positions at schools included elementary classroom teachers, some secondary subject-area teachers and one social-emotional teacher at an elementary school. The nonrenewals provided savings of about $600,000.
About 85% of 9-R’s expenses go to cover salaries and benefits.
Board members also agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Durango Education Association and the Durango Education Support Professionals. The MOU guides how future budget cuts will be made if they are necessary. Also, it guides how revenue will be spent, including providing salary increases, if state tax revenues come in stronger than anticipated.
“This was a difficult budget to grapple with this year, and we appreciate all the sound advice from our Financial Advisory Committee, as well as the critical conversations with our board and our associations to reach this point,” Snowberger said. “More difficult decisions may be required in the fall due to these challenging circumstances, but the board’s passage of this budget is critical to support our staff and families now and into the fall.”