Re-1 schools staring at bleak budget picture for 2010-11 | AspenTimes.com

Re-1 schools staring at bleak budget picture for 2010-11

John Stroud
Post Independent Staff
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Roaring Fork School District Re-1 officials are bracing for state budget cuts that could total as much as 8 percent next year, based on the latest projections.

“The state is asking us to look at projections for next year [2010-11 budget] that would include cuts of 4, 6 and 8 percent,” Re-1 Assistant Superintendent of Business Shannon Pelland said.

“It’s hard to say at this point where it will really end up,” she said. “We won’t know a whole lot until the legislature begins meeting [in January].”

The latest projections would result in about a 6 percent drop in state funding to Re-1 for the fiscal year beginning next July. That would be roughly $2.5 million to $2.7 million less than this year, Pelland said.

Even the current budget proposal from Gov. Bill Ritter assumes ending a number of tax exemptions, totaling about $131 million, which may or may not earn the approval of legislators.

“So, the number might go even higher,” Pelland said.

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Cuts of that magnitude would mean some difficult decisions for the district when it comes time to draft the 2010-11 budget. The district includes schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall and the administrative staff are currently working to draft some “philosophical guiding points” to use for planning next year’s budget.

“High on our list as we’ve been out talking to people is that we want to do everything we can to protect jobs whenever possible,” Haptonstall said. “That’s our main priority in this whole process.”

There are some large budget items short of personnel expenses, such as a $250,000 line item for curriculum adoption, that the district will look at first when it comes to cuts, she said.

“Building utility costs are another area where we have already looked at some savings,” she said. “And that’s a good practice anyway.”

The school district has partnered with the Garfield County New Energy Communities Initiative using grant money to identify ways to save energy in Carbondale school buildings, which has already resulted in some savings. The program will now expand to three Glenwood Springs schools.

The district also hopes to avoid cutting into reserve funds any more than it already has. Pelland said reserve funds dropped below the 10 percent threshold for the first time this year. Maintaining a reserve fund amounting to 10 percent of the total budget continues to be the district’s goal, she said.

An influx of federal stimulus dollars could help offset some of the education budget cuts on the state level. But how much of that comes to Re-1 remains to be seen.

The district will benefit from some American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money that has been directed to the Colorado Department of Education’s pilot project, Closing the Achievement Gap, of which Re-1 is one of six participating districts, Haptonstall said.

However, another pot of federal money, the much touted and highly competitive Race to the Top grant fund, may not be an option for Re-1 for a number of reasons.

First off, state education officials will decide where Colorado’s estimated $60 million to $175 million share of that money will be directed based on a competitive grant process. Second, there are strings attached to the funding that could make it less worthwhile to pursue, some school board members suggested at a recent meeting.

“A lot of districts are waiting to see what all they put in there in the way of rules before they go after the grants,” Haptonstall said.

jstroud@postindependent.com