Low funding plagues Steamboat schools’ budget | SteamboatToday.com

Low funding plagues Steamboat schools’ budget

Finance director presents issues to Steamboat school board

Jack Weinstein

— With already low state financing and more cuts to come, combined with the state revenue sources restricted by legislation and a decrease in local support, the Steamboat Springs School District is in the middle of a difficult budget year.

Add to that the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services’ financial woes, and the $22 million budget becomes even more complicated.

A resolution about how the BOCES board intends to address last year’s budget shortfall and increased assessments this year could come from Monday’s meeting in Granby. That in turn could affect the district’s budget.

The district, as it does every year, will amend the budget before it’s formally presented to the board in January for approval, Finance Director Dale Mellor said. It’s due to the state by Jan. 31.

The district doesn’t know how BOCES will affect the budget, however, Mellor said.

Superintendent Shalee Cunningham told the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday that she and the other BOCES districts’ superintendents would recommend to the BOCES board that it work with them to settle its 2008-09 budget shortfall of nearly $317,000. But they don’t want to pay the increased assessments for the 2009-10 school year, which amount to more than $481,000, and would recommend that BOCES trim its own budget, she said.

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Mellor gave board members a presentation Monday about how the district’s budget got to where it is today and how it will be affected in the future.

He explained how funding for public schools in Colorado had been cut and likely would be cut further soon. That doesn’t make it any easier for districts in a state Mellor said ranks near the bottom nationally in public funding for schools.

Mellor also broke down how state legislation and voter-approved amendments have limited Colorado’s ability to tax residents, making it a challenge to generate additional money in a down economy.

They include the 1982 Gallagher amendment that shields homeowners from significant property tax increases, the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights that requires tax increases to go to voters and Amendment 23 in 2000 that requires per-pupil funding for K-12 education to increase by inflation plus 1 percent annually until 2011.

In the past, Mellor said, the district could use local support to offset low state funding, which includes low property tax allocation for public school financing compared with other states.

He said the half-cent sales tax for education has generated $31 million for the district since it passed in 1993. Mill levy overrides in 2001 and 2006 created additional funding, and voters approved two general obligation bond ballot measures that provided $54 million to expand and remodel the high school and build Soda Creek Elementary.

But there was less support this year from the Education Fund Board, which made drafting a budget difficult. That board is now sharing funding with the Hayden and South Routt school districts and collecting 19 percent less in sales taxes, according to the most recent survey.

Mellor said next year should prove just as challenging.

“I was just trying to tell the board how we got into the position where we are now, where things look a little bleak for the next couple of years,” Mellor said after the meeting. “I just didn’t want it to come as a surprise to them.”

Because of lost revenue this year, such as a state rollback of nearly $300,000 to compensate for cost of living, the district cut a number of expenses and probably will cut them again next year. Mellor said education has seen fewer cuts than other large state expenditures. He said possible adjustment to the school finance formula, which determines per-pupil funding, could cost the district $500,000 next year.

School Board President Robin Crossan said she wasn’t caught off guard by the presentation. She said the Colorado Association of School Boards constantly updates board members about state finances, and Mellor had given them earlier updates.

She acknowledged that things would be tight moving forward but said the district would continue with its top priority: educating the students of Steamboat.