On many occasions, we have discussed the challenging financial situations that school districts across our state face as a result of state fiscal challenges.
Durango 9-R remains $4.8 million dollars short of funding levels intended by Amendment 23 that was passed by Colorado voters in 2000. Amendment 23 was a constitutional change passed in 2000 to reverse the previous decade of budget cuts experienced by Colorado school districts throughout the 1990s. Colorado remains near the bottom of school funding in the United States.
When I arrived in Durango, the district was engaged in over $2 million in deficit spending annually. Since that time, the district has worked to balance its budget as its reserves have been decreasing at a rapid pace. Currently, the district will end this year with a fund balance of about 12.5 percent of annual revenues – down from 21 percent five years ago. This year, we have deficit spending of just over $400,000.
In 2010, voters in Durango passed a mill levy to increase funding by $3.2 million dollars for the purpose of retaining and attracting employees, maintaining lower class sizes than those across the state, investing in innovative programs and maintaining current technologies available to our students. While the passing of that initiative was helpful as we entered the recession, it was clearly promised for specific needs and has helped us advance those causes. It did not help us in preventing the elimination of significant programs over the past several years. Anyone with children in the district knows that a number of programs have been eliminated during this funding crisis.
Sadly, all initiatives to resolve the funding crisis have failed in the state, and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights stands in the way of our Legislature restoring funding to schools. At the same time schools experienced decreased funding, state required spending on Medicaid programs and other state needs exacerbate the situation. Current projections may lead to further decreases in school funding at the state level in the coming year.
Our school board has been discussing other options to further restrain spending in the district. Despite what may appear to be already significant cuts made, Durango 9-R has been fortunate in maintaining many things that have become virtually extinct in district across the state. Our class size, while growing, is still greatly below the average. It’s not what we are used to in Durango, and certainly not what we’d prefer to have.
Over the next three months, we will be holding public budget discussions around the district to garner public comment about how we can manage this challenging situation. Together, we must determine how to manage our shrinking revenues while trying to meet the expectations of our community. In the next couple of weeks, we will advertise a series of budget meetings that will be held around our community. Don’t sit on the sideline and criticize, but get actively involved as our children deserve the very best education possible.
Email Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger at DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.