Legislation provides one-time funding boost for rural schools

By Pat Sunderland


Senate Bill 267, titled "Rural Sustainability," not only converted the hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund, it also directed funds to rural schools. A one-time allocation of $30 million will be spread across the state, bumping per-pupil funding for Delta County students by $171.70. That amounts to about $819,000.

News of the unexpected bump in state funding came just as the Delta County School Board was considering the budget for the 2017-18 school year.

"This is big to us," said school district business manager Jim Ventrello. "We need to thank our legislators. They came through for schools."

The school board previously adopted new salary schedules that incorporated pay increases for all district employees. Incremental salary increases will bring classified employees to the state-required minimum wage of $12/hour by 2020. The school district also plans to use about $4 million from the general fund balance to match a BEST grant for construction at Delta Middle School. Through the use of reserves and grant funds, the $17 million project will be debt-free.

Other funds are designated for technology, curriculum, new route buses and pre-owned fleet vehicles.

At a work session earlier this month, school board members discussed how the one-time funds could be used to enhance technology in the high schools. They discussed purchase of lightweight Chromebooks, which are priced at just $214. After meeting with principals, business manager Jim Ventrello said each core subject area will be equipped with 20 Chromebooks, as a pilot project. The goal is to ultimately provide computers for each high school student.

Funds have also been designated for purchase/renovation of a new school district office, although that project is on hold for now. The school district backed off a previous decision to purchase the Bank of Colorado building at 134 E. 4th Street when remediation costs came in higher than anticipated. Negotiations are ongoing, Ventrello said.

While the school district was able to set aside $1.2 million for infrastructure needs last year, the budget for capital projects dropped substantially for 2017-18. School board members agreed some of the unanticipated state funds should support facilities maintenance. School board member Pete Blair pointed out that Mesa County has identified $50 million worth of infrastructure needs. "We need to be proactive," he said. School board members agreed to add another $150,000 to the capital reserve budget for projects already identified by John McHugh, maintenance supervisor. The parking lot at Hotchkiss High School will take a big chunk of the budget. Other projects at Hotchkiss K-8, Cedaredge Elementary and Delta High School will beef up school security. Interior/exterior LED lighting, backflow preventers, ADA restrooms and public address systems are priorities throughout the district.

The general fund budget totals just over $39 million. With bond redemption, capital projects, special revenue and miscellenous funds, the total comes in at $58.5 million.

Ventrello said the budget was based on a drop in enrollment of 35 students, with the hope that the five-year trend of declining enrollment is leveling off. The school district has lost 400 students over the past several years, superintendent Caryn Gibson noted.