Durango School District 9-R is amid a massive restructuring to adjust to reduced funding from the state.
This change comes after attempts to seek new investments from voters through initiatives such as Amendment 66, which failed statewide, but had strong support in Durango. During the past five years, the district has lost more than $4 million in funding. After years of deficit spending, the district will face significant reduction in staff. Why staff? Because staff constitutes almost 84 percent of this year’s budget and prior cuts have decimated other aspects of our budget.
Many wish to blame the Legislature; others will make this a political-party issue. I see it as neither. While politicians in Denver may differ about how to fund K-12 education, the fact is that conflicting constitutional issues exist, tying the Legislature’s hands. In 1994, voters approved the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits the state’s ability to raise revenues without voter approval. This amendment further prevents the state from keeping revenues, even when the economy allows it to collect more revenue without raising tax rates. Unfortunately – or fortunately – the state has no regulation about how fast tax revenue collection drops during difficult financial times.
Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000, set expectations on our Legislature to require funding increases and correct the deficit in K-12 spending as compared with other states. (Depending on which study you read, Colorado is ranked somewhere between 42 and 48 in funding as compared with other states.) While this was helpful up to 2009, the drop in the economy presented a huge challenge that hindered the legislators’ ability to maintain constitutional expectations.
As the economy recovers, the state faces limits on its growth as a result of TABOR. The Legislature instituted a “negative factor,” which allowed cuts in education despite Amendment 23. Because the state funds so much more than K-12 education, there was no way to avoid such cuts without a tremendous impact on the state’s infrastructure. In essence, we have conflicting constitutional amendments.
With $1.6 million in cuts required, the district will adjust licensed and administrative staffing proportionally. About 24 positions will be lost on our licensed side, and two administrative positions will be reduced. As difficult as it may be, we will focus on maintaining classroom staff, preventing massive increases in class size and preserving programs our community values. Our district will reduce to a sustainable workforce under this “new normal.” This will stop the bleeding that has occurred every year, which causes increased anxiety in our workforce. I realize some may disagree with this direction, however, no new state plan is on the horizon to make significant adjustments in K-12 funding and this “new normal” is a reality.
Right now in the Legislature, House Bill 14-1292, known as the Student Success Act, intends to provide some reduction to the negative factor and provides modest increases. It may bring some new revenue, allowing us to invest in critical programs. I, along with our board, are working cooperatively with our Legislature to find solutions to allow us to move forward; however, we must face the difficult reality now upon us.
I welcome your suggestions.
Daniel Snowberger is superintendent of Durango School District 9-R. DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.