As many of you know, school finances have been quite challenging during the last five years.
While the voters approved a mill-levy override in 2010, the district suffered massive cuts because of the economic recession. In 2010, the district received $32.2 million in base funding. The addition of the 3A mill levy added an additional $3.2 million dollars that year. Since that time, the district has lost $4.1 million dollars in state funding because of a reduction in overall state revenues and K-12 funding.
During the last three years, the district has worked to maintain programs and services. Funds collected under 3A supported the maintenance of low class size in comparison to our counterparts and allowed the district to create salary schedules that are highly competitive and prevent the revolving door of new staff members. Through careful monitoring of spending in the last decade, the district was able to build a positive fund balance beyond what is required by law.
During the last three years as state funding dropped, the board has engaged in deficit spending, hoping to prevent massive cuts to programs and an increase in class size. While we are fortunate to have had a savings account to sustain us, deficit spending can’t continue in the coming years. Last year, the district spent more than $2.5 million more than revenues. This year, the district cut its deficit spending to $1.6 million in order to limit cuts but even this is not sustainable in the coming year.
While voters will decide if they want to increase K-12 funding to address the massive shortfall in per pupil funding in Colorado, the district is at a pivotal point in recognizing that spending patterns can’t continue. Amendment 66 – if passed in November by voters – would bring $4 million dollars into Durango School District, allowing the district to fully restore itself to previous funding levels and re-engage in discussions around critical needs and priorities of our school community. While this is left to a political climate where the issues of increased taxation will lead to an emotional debate, the district must engage in critical conversations should such new funding not be realized.
Other districts that lacked the support of a mill-levy increase approved here by the voters in 2010 often had to resort to increased class size and reduction in supports. To ensure funding at the school level this year, we cut nearly $500,000 out of district office spending and streamlined programs. It is time to engage our community in the conversation around the question: “What do we do to balance the budget?”
Our employee associations made a commitment last spring to coming to the table and beginning discussions about deficit reduction. To ensure all voices are heard, it will be critical that we engage parents and other stakeholders. Despite popular belief, there’s not a lot of fluff in our spending, and 83 percent of our budget is based on salaries and benefits.
I am inviting community members and stakeholders to a Superintendent’s Round Table from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at the district’s administration building, 201. E. 12th Street. We will discuss priorities, share detailed data about current spending and seek to gain community input about deficit cutting.
Daniel Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District. Reach him at email@example.com.