BOCES to present new budget to its board |

BOCES to present new budget to its board

Stimulus funding, cuts may mean districts don't have to pay all increased assessments

Jack Weinstein

The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services will present its board a revised 2009-10 budget and reduced assessments tonight in Steamboat Springs.

District superintendents have requested a revised budget and reduced assessments since shortly after BOCES revealed in September that it had overspent its 2008-09 budget by nearly $317,000 and increased assessments this year by more than $481,000. BOCES initially had asked its six districts to pick up the tab.

BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker said the agency would propose using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to make up last year’s overspending. She said the federal stimulus funding combined with budget cuts would help reduce this year’s assessments.

Also tonight, as part of the assessments presentation, BOCES will tell its board the amount of federal funding it owes each district.

BOCES is a cooperative agency that provides state-mandated special education services to its member districts, East Grand, Hayden, North Park, South Routt, Steamboat and West Grand. It also provides other education-related services and provides some services to the Meeker, Moffat County and Rangely school districts.

Toothaker reiterated Tuesday that last year’s overspending and this year’s increased assessments occurred because BOCES hadn’t properly assessed districts for services in past years. She said overspending and her receipt of incomplete financial information from the previous BOCES finance director also were factors. BOCES recently hired a new finance director.

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“There wasn’t anything fraudulent done,” Toothaker said.

Toothaker said the BOCES board has asked that question, and she said it has received the same answer from her and the independent auditor reviewing BOCES’ financials.

At Monday night’s Steamboat Springs School Board meeting, Superintendent Shalee Cunningham told board members that BOCES also was in the midst of a Colorado Department of Education audit of federal funding. BOCES owes the districts $777,000 in federal funding for special education and other programs from 2008-09.

Department of Education officials met with Toothaker on Oct. 16 to review BOCES’ financial information from the past three years. She’s still awaiting a response from the department, but Toothaker said she expects it to include recommendations about what BOCES needs to improve upon.

Toothaker said proposed BOCES budget amendments were: cutting staff health insurance benefits (including vision coverage), reducing mileage reimbursement from 54 cents to 40 cents, not replacing a staff member who resigned, accepting requests for decreased time from staff members, eliminating professional development, reducing the materials budget by 50 percent, and reducing all contingencies and reserves.

Cunningham told the School Board on Monday that district superintendents have met and proposed initiatives to prevent these problems in the future. Those included superintendents’ reviewing BOCES’ monthly financial reports, which they haven’t done in the past.

She said another measure would entail Steamboat’s providing many of the services it receives from BOCES. Cunningham said Steamboat would submit a list in March to BOCES of the programs it would provide itself and no longer receive from BOCES.

When board member John DeVincentis asked whether she thought using federal stimulus funding to “bail out” BOCES meant it wouldn’t find itself in a similar situation in the spring, Cunningham said she couldn’t say.

Despite BOCES’ recent problems, Toothaker said she hadn’t considering resigning.

“I feel that if you leave a position in the middle of a crisis, it shows a lack of integrity on your part,” she said. “You should follow through and complete that work and get things on firm footing. And yes, I feel responsible. I’m the leader of the organization.”

Toothaker said she didn’t know whether her job was in jeopardy. The BOCES board has the authority to replace its executive director. Toothaker said she’d been given support from several of the member districts to move forward. And she hopes to get a vote of confidence from the BOCES board tonight.

“I’ve admitted mistakes were made,” she said. “We are trying to put in place systems so this never happens again.”

If you go

What: BOCES board meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street