School board starts budget discussions

Legislative session disappoints; state lawsuit will go forward

The Mancos school board started walking through the district's budget Thursday after a disappointing legislative session that will force a lawsuit against the state forward.

The district did see a small estimated boost in per pupil funding for the coming school year up to $8,448 from $7,984. Across the state per pupil funding was set at close to $7,000 up slightly from $6,839.

This session however the legislature only passed $110 million extra to buy down the negative factor, or the piece of the state's district by district funding equation, which has been used to cut funding.

Each year since the 2010-11 school year, the state has determined a flat figure to designate to school funding and then reduced funding to that level by cutting each district by the same percentage. Funds have been withdrawn from school budgets every December for the last five years.

The cuts total around $1 billion in lost revenue to the schools. Locally, this accounted for $67,000 of the district's $133,000 deficient during the 2013-14 school year.

The district's total budget for the year will be about $3.6 million and during the first round of budget talks on May 15 the board discussed ways to trim $16,699 from the estimated costs, according to district documents. The district had plans to pass a balanced budget by the end of the month.

The board is budgeting for some pay increases for longtime employees and a secondary principal, which would be a new administrative position.

Preliminary documents show the district was considering cutting a special education teacher position, no longer paying stipends to lead teachers and new teachers, among other cuts.

The board also discussed no longer taking part in Southwest Colorado eSchool because there is now a $13,000 fixed cost for the district no matter how many students enroll through district.

The district has two home-school students enrolled in the program currently and would receive in funding $6,200 for each one. The program was available this year to provide supplemental classes to traditional students, but no students are currently enrolled.

The board directed the superintendent Brian Hanson to discuss the change with the students that it impacts.

The district will also receive additional funding for reading intervention and English language learners from the state but that money has not been budgeted yet.

As a member of the Colorado Rural Caucus the district will be moving forward with a lawsuit against the state over the negative factor.

There is no timeline on filing the lawsuit yet, said Kathy Gebhardt, the lawyer for the caucus.

At the current rate of increases it will take the legislature another 8-9 years to reduce the negative factor, she said.

"K-12 education is one of the most important functions of state government. Yet, their budget this year did not reflect that priority," Gebhardt said..

The district agreed to be a poster child for the potential lawsuit against the state early in March with the hope that threat of legal action would encourage the state to boost funding.

School Board President Monty Guiles said he felt the negative factor would be found unconstitutional and he was frustrated that the legislature did not do more for education.

"We could have done incredible things with education, if that was the business at hand," he said.