Schools plan for reductions in force

Plan calls for $240,000 cut as precautionary measure

The Montezuma-Cortez School District announced Tuesday it could slash more than $240,000 in instructional position salary and benefits next year, resulting in the cancellation of multiple teacher contracts.

In open session Tuesday, April 15, board member Brian Demby delivered the news by reading an emergency declaration revealing a “reduction in staff” would be required to ease fund balance declines. Superintendent Alex Carter was also directed to present his recommendations for canceling employee contracts within 20 days.

Currently, the district’s total revenue projection for 2014-2015 is $18.3 million, some $2 million short because of reduced funding by the state, Carter said. Although the current legislative session ends May 7, Carter told board members they can’t rely on the state for increased funding.

“We have to make plans for the worst-case scenario, since that seems to be what happens a good deal of the time,” Carter wrote in his budget assessment.

Officials are hopeful state legislators add to revenue projections by approving both the Student Success Act and School Finance Act. If both were passed as written, the Colorado Department of Education estimates the district would receive $6,731 in per-student funding next year, a rough $400 per-student increase over current levels, or $915,000 in total additional revenues.

“We’re nowhere near where we should be,” Carter said. “Even with $1 million more from the state, we’re still not making improvements for our students.”

The district has cut funding before. Less art education and fewer school counselors were on the chopping blocks in previous years, and Carter warned officials Tuesday that further cutbacks to “strategically eliminate failed programs” could continue next year in order to meet budget demands.

“Some of the things we’ve cut were good, like cleaning out your garage” Carter said, “but some of them weren’t good for kids.”

“To have everybody reduce their budget by three percent is just not smart,” he added. “It’s really a weak response, and we just can’t do that anymore.”

Carter emphasized future funding reductions would target a “couple” of ineffective student programs, but indicated they’d neither be “brutal” nor “bloody.”

Board members get their first peek at next year’s total preliminary budget on March 29.

To allow him time to properly notify faculty, Carter asked the Cortez Journal to embargo the emergency declaration news until April 20. Because the board meeting was open to the public, the Journal considers discussions made during the meeting to be public knowledge. The Journal informed Carter on Wednesday that it would not withhold the information from its Friday editions. No objections were received.

Carter also presented board members with his own preliminary budget assessment for fiscal year 2014-2015, which included more than $1 million total in proposed spending increases.

Carter’s report revealed “bottom line” added expenses would be required to continue funding the district’s tradition of step increases for employee wages and the free full-day kindergarten program, at a cost of $236,000 and $140,000, respectively. Carter also proposed an additional $150,000 increase to employee health contributions, raising the district’s contribution from $463 to $525 per month.

Board members were also reminded the Children’s Kiva Montessori Charter School would divert $200,000 from next year’s district budget.

Other considerations raised by Carter included an extra $15,000 needed for workmen’s compensation coverage, and continued skyrocketing utility cost. Half of next year’s $50,000 utility bills are proposed to pay for recent Cortez Sanitation District rate hikes alone.

“Utilities have gone through the roof,” Carter said.

This year, the district subsidized its self-insurance program by $450,000 via a general operating reserve.

Carter emphasized the practice was not sustainable, despite “some decreased cost.” A budget committee is being formed to examine how to eliminate the subsidy, he added.

Before approving the statement of exigency, board members voted to meet behind closed doors, despite an objection by the Journal to keep the meeting open to the public.

After the 10-minute executive session, Carter explained he didn’t want to surprise officials with a legal document pertaining to the public financial discussion.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com