As many of you know, public education has received a significant decrease in funding since 2010. In Durango, we’ve lost $4.5 million dollars in revenue.
This has led to modest cuts during the past four years because our board of education was able to fund critical programs through its reserves. This year, we’ve engaged in just less than $2 million dollars of deficit spending. At the end of this year, we will hit a critical point where deficit spending will not be able to be sustained. With the defeat of Amendment 66, the likelihood of significant funding from the state Legislature to our district in the future is uncertain.
I greatly appreciate the participation of more than 250 members of our community in five separate budget round-table events. These events provided the community a chance to wrestle with the challenges the district will face as we develop a budget for 2014-15. Many priorities were identified through these conversations with the community. I think it’s fair to say that all who attended realized that the job ahead is a challenge, to say the least.
Of the total district budget, only 5.8 percent is allocated to overhead for central office staff members. Our school budgets are as lean as they can be – maybe too lean. Past cuts have afforded us the opportunity to realize new efficiencies in our practices. Still, the fact remains that cuts will need to be made in all schools and in all departments if we are to achieve a balanced budget. I’ve encouraged our leaders not to look at this as “cuts” as much as an opportunity to achieve new efficiencies.
Depending on where parents sit with their children, whether they are in elementary, middle or high school, priorities greatly differ. It is clear that no matter the decisions, our final budget will not satisfy all parties, and criticism may arise that targets my leadership team and me. We know that not only do we need to ensure that supports exist for students who are struggling, we also must continue to provide enrichment and acceleration for students who are achieving at the upper ends of the spectrum. We also have heard loud and clear the commitment of this community to the arts – one which I share as well. No matter your passion, our focus must be on supporting all students.
As we move forward, we will keep student achievement as a priority, maintain a reasonable class size and continue to work to attract and retain the best staff members. While the reality is that there will be cuts to staff, our hope is to achieve this through attrition – retirement or desired resignation – wherever possible. We will be fair to employees and provide ample notice where positions may need to be eliminated and support them in finding other opportunities in and out of the district where possible.
We will continue to watch our Legislature in hopes that new dollars will be committed to our schools. We recognize the financial challenges our charter schools are having and seek to find ways to maximize resources wherever possible so that mutual benefit can be achieved to support all families and students. In April, we will host a public budget session to provide detailed information and allow for your feedback and reaction. More information will be coming out about this and how you can get involved. If you have questions, please contact me.
Daniel Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango School District. Reach him at DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.