The coming year will likely bring some painful budget cuts to Delta County Joint School District #50, due in large part to declining enrollment. The student count is down 107 in traditional schools, and 175 in the Vision Charter Academy's three locations.
Business manager Jim Ventrello says about $1.75 million will have to be trimmed from the 2014-15 budget while dealing with increases in health insurance and PERA.
Ideas to reduce expenditures and increase revenues are being explored by a budget advisory committee which held its first meeting Dec. 18. The meetings are being facilitated by superintendent Caryn Gibson, maintenance supervisor John McHugh and Ventrello. Pete Blair and Tammy Smith represent the school board on the advisory committee, which also includes principals, district accountability members, coordinating and classified council members, district administrators and four citizens.
The committee is trying to maintain a districtwide perspective, Ventrello said. Between now and the end of January, committee members will prioritize funding options and make recommendations to the school board. Those recommendations will be discussed by the school board in February and March, with the goal of having the 2014-15 budget finalized by April.
Salary increases for the district's staff are a priority, Ventrello said. A recent salary survey indicated the average teacher salary falls $9,000 short of the state average. "Keeping great teachers is our goal," Ventrello said, "but we're losing them to Montrose and Grand Junction, where they can earn $3,000 to $5,000 more."
In addition to a loss in revenue due to declining enrollment, property tax revenues are dropping. At a recent school board meeting, Ventrello said assessed valuation dropped by $16 million in Delta County and by $4 million in the portion of Gunnison County within the boundaries of the school district.
The mill levy is established by the state and remains frozen at 22.656 mills, which will generate $9,352,344. That's about $500,000 less than was collected last year through property tax.
"The good news," Ventrello said, "is that the state will backfill, but it will take some time."
The school district also has an abatement levy of 0.0672 and a bond redemption levy of 4.66.
The school district has already taken several steps to save money. The first was a hiring freeze that took effect about a month ago.
The school board also reinstated the early retirement incentive program. Ventrello said the incentives target teachers with 25 to 29 years of experience. By replacing them with less-experienced teachers, the district can save, on average, $15,000 per position for about five years.
The budget advisory committee will take into consideration class size guidelines adopted by the school board. K-3 is a priority — the goal is for the student-teacher ratio to be 25-1 or less. Classes with 32 or more students will be divided into two sections. An aide will be provided for classes with 28 to 31 students. When student count drops below 15, classes will be combined. The combinations may result in multi-age classrooms (for example, a combination of first and second grades).
Guidelines for fourth and fifth grade are: 35 or higher, two sections; 31-34, teacher plus aide; 15-30, one section; less than 14, no class without district approval.
The teacher to student ratio for middle and high schools is targeted at 1 to 20.
Dipping into reserves is not an option, Ventrello stressed. The school district currently has a one-month operating reserve, and the district's auditor recommends trying to build that up.
Other "non-negotiables," Ventrello said, include K-12 programs in Paonia, Hotchkiss, Cedaredge and Delta. While consolidation is off the table for the coming year, Ventrello said there may be some sharing of teachers or reconfiguration of classes to make better use of staff. "We'll be looking at all the possible scenarios," Ventrello said.
He put to rest a rumor that the school district is getting rid of its buses. While contracting transportation services is an option, it's not one under consideration by Delta County Joint School District #50.blog comments powered by Disqus