Board adopts proposed RE-1 school budget

The Montezuma-Cortez School District projects to spend more than $17.8 million for general operations next year, a 4 percent increase over last year’s $17.1 million budget.

The school board unanimously approved the budget on Tuesday, June 30.

Nearly two-thirds of next year’s budget, or $11.2 million, has been appropriated to the district’s seven schools, an increase of 3 percent over last year’s $10.9 million.

The elementary schools would receive $4.9 million, an increase of 4 percent over last year’s $4.7 million. Cortez Middle School would receive $2.9 million, an increase of 4 percent over last year’s $2.8 million. And Montezuma-Cortez High School would receive more than $3.3 million, the same as last year.

The budget projects that the average amount of money that will go toward each pupil is $4,956, a 5 percent increase over last year’s average of $4,728. The highest amount budgeted per pupil is $7,227 at Pleasant View Elementary School, up 16 percent over last year’s $6,239; the low, $4,162 at Mesa Elementary, is a 9 percent increase over last year per pupil funding of $3,826. Manaugh Elementary is the only school forecast to see per pupil funding drop from $4,777 to $4,403, an 8 percent decline.

Superintendent Alex Carter described the figures as “meaningless,” since actual student enrollment numbers wouldn’t be known until October.

District finance director Wendy Everett reiterated Carter’s remarks, emphasizing that the adopted budget is an estimate. A revised budget, expected in the fall, would better reflect accurate revenue and expenditure projections, she said.

Districtwide, next year’s salary and benefit packages total about $13.8 million, about a 2.5 percent increase, compared with $13.5 million last year. Total salary and benefits packages at the district’s seven schools total $10.4 million next year, about a 3 percent increase from $10.1 million last year. However, Everett said, the budgeted increase overestimates insurance cost because costs are allocated across the general fund. In actuality, costs remained level, she said.

Carter attributed the decrease in compensation, including salary and benefits, in part to the shifting and elimination of positions in combination with budgeting shifts in grant funds.

Across the district, benefit expenses will account for nearly 41 percent of all pay packages next year. Last year, total benefits accounted for 35 percent of all compensation. Carter attributed the increase to increased insurance costs.

The largest jump in compensation will be seen in the Human Resources/District Support Services Fund, where total salary and benefits are projected to jump more than 20 percent, from last year’s $10 million to next year’s $12.1 million. Carter attributed the increase to a new hire.

The greatest decrease in compensation will be felt in the Business Services Fund, with more than a 9 percent decrease from $249,000 to $225,000. Carter attributed the reduction to eliminating positions.

Across the schools, total salary and benefit packages account for an average of 95 percent of each school’s overall budget, according to the budget.

Working on a 179-day contract, the top salary for a district teacher is $54,337. Working the same 179 days, the lowest teacher salary is $29,250, according to Everett. Teachers receive an annual step salary increase of $769, but the number can be higher depending on a teacher’s level of education.

Minus $2.5 million in reductions for things such as charter school transfers and insurance fund subsidies, the district expects to collect slightly more than $17 million in general fund revenues next year, a decrease of 2 percent over last year’s $17.3 million.

More than $11.7 million of next year’s total revenues is expected to come from local taxes; nearly $6.8 million from the state; and less than $500,000 from federal sources.

Other proposed general fund expenditures next year include more than $1.3 million for building operations and maintenance; $1 million for transportation; and more than $1.2 million for utility, travel and contractual agreements. Business services, curriculum and instruction, district support, media and technology, exceptional student services, governance and management and health services combine for more than $2.8 million.

In adopting the proposed budget, school board members also voted to apply for an interest-free $6.2 million loan from the state treasurer. The loan would help cover first-quarter cash-flow issues until a revised budget is adopted, Everett said.

As of July 1, the district projected its current reserves at $2.6 million, pending an annual audit.

Before adopting the budget on June 30, school board members held a scheduled public work session to discuss the budget, a 30-minute meeting on May 29. At that meeting, three of the seven board members – treasurer Pete Montano, vice-president Jack Schuenemeyer and Sherri Wright – were present when the proposed budget was presented at the start of a workshop. Board members Brian Demby and president Tim Lanier arrived 15 to 20 minutes late, and secretary Eric Whyte and Diane Fox did not attend the May 29 work session.

Carter said a district financial advisory committee, made up of a handful of civic and business leaders, had met regularly over the past four months for a total of 20 hours to examine the proposed budget. Board members Demby and Montano attended some of the committee meetings.

“We went through the budget line by line,” Carter said.

The 77-page budget was approved quickly and unanimously in the board meeting on Monday, June 30. After Carter asked if the voluntary board members had specific questions regarding the budget, only Wright raised a question, asking if the district received any funding from state wildlife revenues. Finance director Everett indicated that no such revenues were included in next year’s budget.

Another board member said it would take two weeks to go over the document.