Steamboat School District has $450K budget surplus; funds could be spent to restore raises, staff bonus
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School District has a $450,000 budget surplus for the current fiscal year, up from what was anticipated to be a $250,000 budget deficit in January.
In a Board of Education workshop Wednesday, Superintendent Brad Meeks gave two recommendations for what the money could be used for: increasing raises to administrators that were cut last year when the budget situation looked dire and giving school staff a one-time bonus recognizing the work they have done during the pandemic.
Members of the board pressed Meeks and Finance Director Mark Rydberg about what else the money could be spent on.
“If we are ranking in the top 12 across the state, and we had a significant bump last year, even though I think teachers have been pretty incredible this last year, I think in the court of public opinion, it is a hard sell,” School Board President Kelly Latterman said.
On average teachers in the district make $60,635 per year, which is about 4% higher than the Colorado average, according to the state Department of Education. This ranks Steamboat 17th out of 195 districts in the state.
Last June, the district was facing a half-million dollar budget deficit, and Meeks said they were hearing the upcoming fiscal year could be even worse.
“That was kind of our mindset back in June,” Meeks said. “As we have learned over the last 11, 12 months, it didn’t get worse. It was stable and actually better for a variety of reasons.”
In an effort to reduce expenses last year, administrators were given a 4% raise, which is the minimum for returning administrators in the district, while teachers were given a 6.5% raise. Traditionally, Meeks said, these two groups would get the same size raises each year.
The budget surplus occurred because the district exceeded its January revenue projections due to higher per-pupil funding and more money collected from specific ownership taxes, Rydberg said.
This was combined with a decrease in spending. The district paid fewer substitute teachers and had fewer professional and curriculum development hours. It also spent less on things like travel for sports teams and snow removal — a $120,000 savings alone, Rydberg said.
The board asked when this surplus money needs to be spent and how much, if any, could be rolled over. While much of it could be rolled over to the next fiscal year, Rydberg said the district is expected to receive more of this money next year, and he said it is a best practice to spend money in the fiscal year it is received.
“Once the fiscal year ends, any of that money that you use next year is by definition one-time money, because you are not actually getting revenue to support expenses and keep them balanced,” Rydberg said.
Board member Lara Craig suggested they could use some of the money to address substitute teacher and para-professional pay, which she believes is low compared to the work they are doing.
“These people are amazing,” she added.
“I would resist spending that money on anything that’s recurring,” Rydberg said. “I think the substitute pay is something that we are obviously going to address, but that has to go through the negotiations process, so I don’t think we could do anything this year.”
Rydberg said the district would include all staff if the board decides to give bonuses.
Craig also suggested the district use this money to ensure it can retain staff whose positions are currently supported by grant funding, but Rydberg said those positions should be addressed within the parameters of the budget. He said he was confident the district could fit these positions into future budgets or continue to apply for grants to support them.
“As these grants expire, our counseling and mental health needs are not expiring, and therefore, we will be fitting them into the budget, and I think there’s a couple of different paths and strategies to do that,” Rydberg said.
“Have we paid for everything like new textbooks, new technology, new equipment for labs, whatever teachers would need?” Craig asked Rydberg. “Are there other things that we could use this one-time funding for that doesn’t have to do with bonuses and a bump in salary?”
The district cycles through technology, so it does not have to all be replaced at the same time, and Rydberg said most of the differences in classroom technology are due to teacher preference.
“If there is somebody out there who wants X and doesn’t have it, the answer is yes,” Rydberg said.
Meeks added that he was not aware of any potential shortcomings in classroom technology.
The board did not take any action during the work session but will revisit what to do with the surplus at its meeting at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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