As many of you know, public school funding has faced huge cuts during the recent recession.
Durango School District has faced years of cuts in staff and programs because of this funding crisis. Last year, we made a conscious effort to trim down to create a sustainable workforce and budget. It was difficult. While we do not need to make additional staffing cuts this year, the issue of funding continues to be a challenge for a variety of reasons.
In 2000, Colorado voters passed Amendment 23 to the state constitution. This amendment sought to bring the state up from the bottom in education funding. At the time, Colorado recognized the school finance system was broken and sought to rectify the problem through a steady increase. Contrary to that intent, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights originally sought to limit the state’s ability to make major changes to the tax structure, in turn protecting taxpayers from major increases in taxation that would exceed inflation and growth.
While the concept of this amendment made sense, it forgot one important aspect. While growth of tax revenue faced limitation, the decrease of state funding faced no such limits. Once the recession eased and recovery began, the state is finding itself limited in its ability to retain the funding lost during the recession.
When the state collects more taxes than the rate of inflation and growth, the state government must refund excess revenue in lieu of recovering funding for many state services cut during the down turn, including public education. Next year, some estimates show the state refunding $500 million to taxpayers. Because of the conflict of Amendment 23, the Legislature instituted the concept of the “negative factor.” In essence, this factor tracks the amount of money owed to public school districts based on a constitutional amendment that it is unable to fund.
During the three years of recession, Durango School District lost $4.5 million in funding, which led to the significant cuts experienced during the last five years. While the state was able to make a significant contribution back to education last year, sadly, we will not see a similar increase this coming year. With rising student counts, our “negative factor” totals more than $4.8 million in unfunded revenue. This gap will only increase over time.
With aging facilities, retirement increases, health-insurance costs and an increase of student needs in Durango, we continue to struggle to keep up. While we are committed to avoiding further reductions in staffing this coming year, as a community, we will need to consider further actions to stabilize our educational financial situation.
At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, I invite all interested residents to attend a budget presentation at Miller Middle School. I encourage people come to gain a deeper understanding of how our dollars come in and how they are currently being used. This is a community challenge, and we need the best thinking from all stakeholders if we are to lay a path forward that will not return us to significant budget cuts down the road.
DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us. Dan Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District.