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School budget supports staff, student achievement

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With the fiscal year beginning July 1, Delta County Joint School District staff members received a two-pronged boost to salaries called a "step and roll."

The "step" entails a bump in the salary schedule for current employees; the "roll" is an adjustment to the salary schedule that moves up starting salaries for beginning teachers, while also supporting existing staff. Between the two, staff members receive an estimated salary increase of 4 percent for 2016-17.

The intent, explained business manager Jim Ventrello, is to reward and recognize support staff and teachers, "the single biggest contributor to student growth and achievement."

The school district also keeps an eye on salaries offered in Mesa and Montrose school districts, to avoid losing valued instructors to neighboring communities. Efforts to make salaries more competitive will hopefully improve teacher retention.

Staff was recognized as a top priority by members of the budget advisory committee which met last spring. Board input and recommendations from the budget advisory committee were incorporated into the 2016-17 budget. The largest percentage of the budget goes to salaries and benefits. Other priorities include funding for professional development, continued improvements to classroom technology, implementation of middle school language arts curriculum, implementation of online student registration software and continued upgrades of the bus fleet. The school district's multi-passenger vans are slowly being replaced by mini activity buses.

The per-pupil allocation that comprises each principal's discretionary budget was increased, and $100,000 was set aside for music programs countywide. Food service transfers have increased, due in part to the mandated "breakfast before the bell" program at Lincoln Elementary School.

Total per-pupil funding is $7,181.18. While that amount has grown each year, it's been offset by declining student enrollment. The 2016-17 budget was built around an anticipated drop in enrollment of 100 students from last fall.

"Over the last several years, the general population in the school district has declined by over 1,200 persons," Ventrello noted. "School enrollment has declined by nearly 400 students since 2012.

"The district has been fortunate that an increase in state revenue has offset most of the revenue lost due to the enrollment decline."

One new program of note is an online school called the Achieve Blended Learning Academy, which will initially focus on grades 6-12.

Support will continue for the North Fork Montessori School at Crawford, entering its third year as a school of innovation; the North Fork School of Integrated Studies, a "school within a school" at Paonia Elementary; and A KidZ Clinic, a school-based health clinic at the Delta Center.

The general fund totals $46.3 million, which does not include nearly $4.5 million in federal and state grants.

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