Roaring Fork School District budget cut ‘B-list’ contains a few eye-openers
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – School bus fees, cuts in athletics, elimination of nighttime high school football games, and a four-day school week were among the items taken off the table as a team of Roaring Fork School District Re-1 employees considered budget cuts for the coming year.
But they’re all ideas that warrant further study, according to the recommendations of the district’s Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB) Salary and Budget Committee.
Especially if state funding cuts become the norm in future budget years, such nonsalary cuts and new revenue options may be the best way to avoid further cuts directly affecting teaching positions and pay.
In an effort to decide where to come up with more than $1 million in general fund budget cuts for the 2010-11 fiscal year related to a 7 percent reduction in state funding, Re-1 used its certified IBB process, turning to district administrators, teachers and staff to offer suggestions and make recommendations.
“It’s something that was just done for this year, knowing that we were going to have to make cuts,” Re-1 Assistant Superintendent of Business Shannon Pelland said.
The IBB input resulted in a range of ideas for budget reductions in areas such as student transportation, utilities, athletics, school-year calendar changes, use of substitute teachers and retirement incentives.
Among the IBB committee’s recommended cuts for Re-1 public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt that will be reflected in the proposed 2010-11 Re-1 budget, are:
• Shortening some of the longer school bus routes where a limited number of students are served (projected savings of between $20,000 and $40,000 per year);
• Implementing the recommendations of New Energy Technologies, which has been doing a utility cost assessment in Re-1 schools under a grant from the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative (savings to be determined);
• Reduce substitute teacher pay by 2 percent, from $102 to $100, and by 10 percent for long-term sub pay (projected savings of $21,000);
• Allow parents to sponsor students other than their own who are unable to pay fees for athletic programs (increased revenue to offset expenses); and,
• Offset the cost of athletic programs by seeking out more local corporate partnerships and advertising.
“We’re still working on shoring up some of the numbers, but all of these ideas will be reflected in the first draft of the budget,” said Pelland, who will give the initial 2010-11 budget presentation at a special April 21 school board meeting.
The cuts were added to a list of other budget reductions already identified by the school district, including a 20 percent cut in individual school materials and supplies budgets, postponing new curriculum adoption, suspending summer school programs, and not rehiring some currently vacant staff positions.
There will be a time set aside for public comment on the budget at every school board meeting in April, May and June leading up to final adoption, Pelland said. The board also plans to schedule community forums separate from board meeting to gather budget input.
Several bigger-ticket budget-cutting measures were discussed by the IBB group that could result in significant savings for the school district. However, because they would require a fair amount of public input and board discussion before they could even be considered, they were set aside for further study, Pelland said.
Among them was a suggestion to go to a four-day work week, which would also mean a four-day school week for students.
“There are some school districts in Colorado that already do this,” Pelland said. “They’re mostly smaller, rural districts with big student transportation costs. But, with the cuts in state funding, other districts are looking at it or have already decided to institute it.”
Such a schedule would assume a 10-hour school/work day, four days a week. While there would be no reduction in wage costs other than paying bus drivers one less day a week, such a schedule would result in an estimated $105,000 to $125,000 per year in savings on such things as utilities and transportation.
“Implementation would require significant staff and community input,” the IBB committee wrote in its recommendation.
Re-1 is also evaluating other calendar-related options, including costs associated with late-start Mondays, which was begun this year as a way to give teachers more planning time on Monday mornings before students arrive.
However, because the plan eliminated the full-day teacher planning days that previously were scattered throughout the school year when students weren’t at school at all, it has resulted in an increase of about $25,000 per year in student transportation costs.
Another tabled suggestion was to implement a $1-per-day fee for students to ride the bus to and from school, which could generate as much as $150,000 per year.
“Busing is not a required service for public schools to provide,” Pelland said. “And state statute does allow for districts to charge a fee for riding the bus.”
However, there would be administrative costs associated with collecting the fee. And, it would likely result in more traffic congestion with parents dropping off and picking up students, which is already a problem at most schools.
“It’s one that the group said has some pros and cons,” Pelland said. “But the cons are significant, and we felt like we wanted to see how it works in other districts that are trying it.”
Re-1 currently spends about $800,000 annually in support of athletics at the middle and high school levels, including pay and benefits for coaches and athletic directors, pay for officials, team travel costs and state association dues.
The IBB committee recommended cutting costs where possible for the coming year, including reducing the number of athletic contests.
“In 2011-12, if additional budget cuts are required, athletics will need to cut costs as well,” the IBB committee recommended. “The number of sports offerings may need to be considered, in which case a process for determining where reductions should occur should include input from staff, students and the community.”
School board member Bill Lamont agreed that the costs of athletics may need to be closely evaluated in future years.
“I fully believe in and support school sports, and that all kids should have that opportunity,” he said. “But we do need to rethink some of these program costs.”
Much of the control is at the state level, however, because the Colorado High School Activities Association controls the alignment of conferences and scheduling, which contributes to high travel costs. Lamont pointed to an instance this past basketball season when the Roaring Fork High School girls team had to travel to Gunnison for games, one at the end of the regular season and one to open the postseason tournament, twice within four days.
Another suggestion that came out of the IBB process which will be further studied was to avoid or limit nighttime outdoor sporting events when stadium lighting is required. However, at an estimated cost of $200 per use to operate stadium lights, the additional gate receipts generated by Friday night games are enough to offset the cost, the committee concluded.
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