Durango School District 9-R is set to increase class sizes, lay off about eight teachers, freeze administrative
salaries and deeply cut the central office to close a $2.7 million budget gap for 2010-11.
During a grueling budget session Tuesday night, school board members came to a rough consensus about what to cut. Many
of their decisions closely reflected the recommendations of school principals and Superintendent Keith Owen.
District 9-R faces a drop in state funding and revenue from mineral leases coupled with increased costs for employees'
retirements and health care. The school district is only the latest local agency to lay off workers.
For next school year, class sizes will rise by two students on average in grades six through 12. Class sizes in grades
K-2 will remain unchanged.
In a compromise between board members who did not want to raise class sizes by two in the upper elementary grades and
those who felt it was necessary, class sizes will rise by one student on average in grades three through five.
Board members called the compromise the Julie model" after board member Julie Levy, who proposed it.
The changes will require laying off about eight teachers, including three at the elementary level, three at the middle
school level and two at Durango High School.
Also cut were Partners in Education, a program originally paid for by grants but now funded by 9-R. The cuts fall on
10 half-time employees, many of whom are parents in the district's 10 schools.
Owen said he already has begun notifying employees who may not have jobs by July, when the 2010-11 budget takes
We do have some people we've had to tell that we won't necessarily have a position for you next year," Owen said.
Board member Wendy Rice spoke in opposition to cutting Partners in Education, but she also opposed dipping into the
district's multimillion-dollar reserve fund to compensate.
About 60 teachers, staff and principals watched the budget discussions with trepidation. The board spent nearly three
hours discussing the budget, then entered a closed-door executive session to talk about a personnel issue.
During the protracted budget discussions, Owen asked board members for their opinions but also repeatedly pressed for
decisions. He said he wanted to notify employees who would be laid off as soon as possible.
This was a very inclusive process, and you can see that drags things off a little bit, but I think it's good work,"
Owen proposed deep cuts to his own central office staff totaling $655,000.
Eliminated positions include executive director of student achievement, now held by Sandra Berman-LaFrance, who is
retiring; a staff accountant, half-time and full-time technology specialists, assistant directors of transportation and
facilities, a district nurse and others.
There was a lot of feedback from our community and our staff to cut central office," Owen said. It seems an easy
solution, but there are a lot of responsibilities that have to go somewhere."
He added: This is a ripping-the-Band-Aid approach to central office this year. I don't know how much more we can do
in this area."
Owen will be among the administrative employees who will receive no raises next year.
Including one-time cuts, such as foregoing new buses and technology purchases, the district will cut about $2 million
that doesn't directly affect staffing.
We have tried very hard to keep this away from school buildings and the staff in those buildings," said Laine Gibson,9-R's chief financial officer.
A majority of board members indicated they would not support furlough days for 9-R employees, but district officials
may attempt to negotiate a deal with the teachers and support staff unions to increase employee contributions to health
Durango High School will not see programs eliminated, but some may offer fewer sections, reducing students'
Owen won approval to cut $260,000 from the district's reserve fund, despite Rice's opposition. Newly appointed board
member Bruce Anderson also lamented touching the fund.
I'm concerned about something totally unforeseeable coming up," he said.
Anderson, who was appointed Monday to fill the vacancy left by Padraig Paddy" Lynch's resignation, is scheduled to
serve until November 2011.
Gibson and Owen emphasized that further cuts likely will be necessary in 2011-12 as state funding and enrollment
continue to slide and costs rise.
Owen was frank: We will be coming back and talking about cuts next year."