Re-1 reserves are healthy, but use of funds limited | AspenTimes.com
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Re-1 reserves are healthy, but use of funds limited

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Roaring Fork School District Re-1 expects to have built up about $10 million in reserve funds by the time the current fiscal year ends in June.

That represents a quarter of the district’s $40 million annual budget, and gives the district a healthy emergency fund to cover any unexpected capital expenses or backfill future cuts in state funding, according to Re-1 Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Shannon Pelland.

However, Pelland emphasized during a budget discussion at Wednesday’s school board meeting that reserves should only be used for one-time expenses and not dedicated to recurring budget needs, such as salaries or programs.

“People have to remember that it’s a temporary solution to further cuts,” Pelland said during a public input session to help the board determine spending priorities for next year.

Pelland said she often hears suggestions that the district should use its reserves until the economy rebounds and state funding is restored.

“With the state funding structure for education the way it is, that’s just not going to happen, even if the economy rebounds in a huge way,” she said, referring to conflicting state laws that continue to reduce the amount of funding for K-12 education.

The long-term approach is still to budget expenses based on actual revenues, even if that means further cuts, she said.

School board members agreed.

“If it’s a one-time expenditure, fine. But we can’t use reserves for year over year expenses,” board member Daniel Biggs said.

Pelland outlined about $4 million worth of budget cuts from this year that could potentially be added back into the 2012-13 budget, using the $4.8 million in new annual property tax revenues approved by district voters in November.

That’s not including another $2 million in additional spending needs that have been identified. Pelland also suggests keeping $1 million per year in reserve to prepare for future state funding cuts.

One big recurring item on the table is whether to reinstate the longevity pay increases for Re-1 teachers and staff. That alone would cost about $574,000 next year, plus $1.4 million if prior increments after three years of wage freezes were reinstated.

The school board recently decided to use some of the newly approved funds this year to give teachers and staff a one-time, across-the-board $1,500 bonus.

Already, Re-1 schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are preparing for another $700,000 in state funding cuts for 2012-13. That number could go up or down, depending on the next state budget forecast that comes out in mid-March.

The Colorado Legislature is also busy haggling over the 2012-13 state budget, which will not be formally adopted until May. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s initial budget proposal included reinstatement of some K-12 education funding.

The Wednesday budget session was the first of several opportunities for public input between now and late April. Additional input sessions are slated for the regular March 14, April 11 and April 18 school board meetings.

A handful of teachers and parents attended Wednesday’s meeting or listened online from Carbondale and Basalt. Among the suggestions for use of the new voter-approved funds included:

• Restoring the 13 teaching positions that were cut districtwide.

• Hiring back some additional custodian positions that were cut this year.

• Revisiting funding for vocational education.

• Restoring funding for the Family Resource Centers.

• Reinstating the summer school program.

• Supporting grant-writing efforts.

In addition to community input, the board and district administration are working with the Interest-Based Bargaining Committee and school administrators to determine priorities for next year’s budget.

In other business at the Wednesday meeting, the school board:

• Heard an update on the ongoing superintendent search schedule, following a series of community input meetings last week to help consultants in preparing a job profile to be advertised in mid-March.

So far, about 350 people have completed an online survey that’s open to staff, parents, students and the general public to help define the desired characteristics in a new superintendent. The survey will remain available online at http://www.rfsd.org through Feb. 29.

Search consultants are scheduled to present a job profile at the March 14 school board meeting. A short list of candidates is expected to be ready by late April. Board interviews are scheduled for April 25-27, and a list of finalists is to be made available in early May.

• Approved a State Historical Fund grant application seeking funding for repairs needed at the one-room Canyon Creek Schoolhouse, which is owned by Re-1. The schoolhouse is included on the state and national historical registers. A Canyon Creek community group to which the building is leased is trying to raise $20,000 in matching funds for the $80,000 preservation project.

• Approved a 3 percent tuition rate increase for full-day kindergarten for the 2012-13 school year. The full-pay annual rate will increase from $2,997 to $3,087. Reduced rates are offered based on income.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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