Our View: Preparing for the worst in school budget cuts | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Preparing for the worst in school budget cuts

— Significant cuts to state education spending are going to hit hard in public school districts across Colorado, including our three school systems in Routt County. Advance planning and open communication with residents will help ease the pain of the cuts and may lead to thoughtful solutions for minimizing the impact in classrooms.

It's encouraging to see that our local districts already are preparing for the worst. Indeed, the news they're getting from Denver isn't good. State lawmakers are estimating $150 million in cuts to K-12 spending for the 2010-11 school year. That total balloons to $260 million if one includes $110 million in previously allocated education funding that since has been rescinded. The cuts could go deeper depending on an updated state revenue analysis expected in March.

With education spending occupying 43.3 percent of the state's general fund budget, there's simply no way lawmakers can reduce a projected $1 billion to $1.4 billion deficit without slashing funds to the biggest line item expenditure. Assuming districts will have less money to spend, the question becomes how those cuts will be enacted at the district and school level.

State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, a member of the Joint Budget Committee and former member of the House Education Committee, urged districts to minimize cuts to core educational programming. Steamboat Springs School Board President Robin Crossan echoed that sentiment.

"We're all in agreement that we want to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," Crossan said Tuesday before adding that "no stone will be left unturned."

Crossan and her fellow board members held a two-day work session last week that included significant time devoted to budget discussions. Budget conversations also dominated last week's Hayden School Board meeting. And on Tuesday, the South Routt School Board held a special public meeting to discuss its projected revenue shortfall for the 2010-11 school year, which could reach nearly $500,000.

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We're encouraged by these proactive discussions in all three school districts. But we also know it will take creative ideas and community buy-in to help our schools make it through the next couple of years without experiencing significant impacts to the quality of education we offer students.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

■ The Education Fund Board should consider temporarily adjusting its typical allocation process and instead provide funding to all three districts to reinstitute cut programs or positions.

■ Districts should explore increased partnerships with other educational institutions, such as Colorado Mountain College, to offer high-level courses that could be cut from local high schools.

■ Districts should consider the role increased community involvement — think parent volunteers, for example — can play in supplementing regular educational programming, particularly where potential staff cuts could minimize the adult presence in classrooms and schools.

We're sure there are many other ideas our education professionals and community members will offer up during the coming months. We urge Routt County's school districts to create opportunities for that public input to be heard. And perhaps as important, we think district officials should put forth the effort to create easy-to-understand documentation about school budgets and the associated costs of providing specific programs and services. For example, what does $1 million buy? What is the cost of trash removal services, special education services, school transportation services, gifted and talented programs? Providing line-item budget summaries would go a long way to helping the community understand how taxpayer money is spent on public education, and thus, the scope of the looming budget cuts.

We're fortunate to have strong public school systems in Routt County, but they aren't immune to the dire fiscal situation at the state level. Working together, and working proactively, will help keep our schools strong during the economic crisis. That effort must continue in earnest.