Durango School District 9-R's recently announced changes to Kids Kamp, the district's after-school program, are only the most visible sign of an increasingly tight budget.
Southwest Colorado's largest school district again is operating under a deficit budget this year. District 9-R expects to spend $306,000 more this year than it takes in, out of a $39 million budget.
For years, 9-R has slowly spent down its fund balance, a reserve it must keep by state law and district policy.
By the end of 2008-09, 9-R's fund balance is expected to slip to less than $4.2 million. At 10.65 percent of the total budget, that is barely more than the district's board-required minimum of 10 percent. State law requires a minimum 3 percent fund balance.
In 2006-07, the district had a 13.4 percent fund balance.
Despite the deficit and reduced fund balance, the 9-R Board of Education unanimously approved the budget at its meeting Dec. 11 after some fretting.
"I'm hesitant to want to pass another deficit budget," board member Jeff Schell said at the time. "This is the last one we can do."
Board Vice President Melissa Youssef said the budget "places us in more of a predicament next year, possibly, at this time."
She suggested the district look at cuts. But Superintendent Keith Owen said it was too late in the school year to begin slashing budgets.
"It would cause some havoc," said Owen, who is halfway through his first year as 9-R superintendent.
Nevertheless, Kids Kamp recently announced some changes to reduce expenses. The district said it would be "controlling the number of staff members employed at each site." Kids Kamp supervises children after school at the district's seven elementary schools.
The program also is tightening enrollment caps and may refuse drop-ins at times, 9-R said.
Kids Kamp ran a $138,483 deficit in 2007-08, leading to preregistration and other changes this fall to reduce unrecouped expenses. The district said the changes had improved the program's financial condition, giving it a deficit that is only a quarter of what it was at this time last year.
The district's new chief financial officer, Laine Gibson, said 9-R may do its budget differently for 2009-10. For example, staff salaries are now paid on a school-by-school basis. Next year, 9-R may pay out its salaries on a district-wide basis.
"Those are some of the changes that I'm looking to do," Gibson said.
He added in an interview last week that some of the current budget deficit is a result of "carryover" expenditures, spending that was planned for last school year's budget but was not actually spent until this year.