MONTROSE – Until state lawmakers in Denver figure out how to reduce the “negative factor,” or reverse the amount of money cut from state schools over the years since the recession, Montrose County RE-1J educators are using an educated guess about the amount of new revenue to be used in the 2014-2015 budget.
Following millions of dollars in cuts, lawmakers are negotiating House Bill 14-1251, coined the “Student Success Bill,” to replenish school districts with monies from Colorado’s recovering economy.
However, RE-1J’s earlier prediction of about $820,000 from the state for 2014-2015 was readjusted at Tuesday’s school board meeting, down to $605,200. By adding back staff attrition savings of $148,000, the district is currently looking at about $753,200 in revenues for the next school year.
Over the past three years, Colorado public schools have lost $2.8 billion in revenue. In Montrose, the total has reached nearly $21 million, according to a report by the Colorado School Finance Project.
The state began making budget cuts in 2008, and in Montrose, according to Superintendent Mark MacHale, the cuts continue to deepen each year. This year the district will lose a projected $7,539,860. Annually, state schools have lost about $1 billion.
Right now, MacHale said, lawmakers are deciding what to do with nearly $1.7 billion in new revenues. They have until May to make decisions.
District CFO Karin Slater said Tuesday the district has received $394,861 in new state funding this current school year and that the money has been slated as “ongoing” funds for the district.
“We still haven’t pulled out of this recession,” she reminded the board.
The board also discussed increases in its Public Employee’s Retirement Association, or PERA obligations from 17.45 percent to 20.15 percent, or an increase of $233,600 over last year. With an estimated five percent increase in the district’s employee medical insurance and three new full time positions, the total expected increase in expenditures is to be $607,250, which is $217,650 less than the district’s previous prediction.
Other possible costs include increases in time clock hours and “steps and lanes” for teachers. Steps refer to how many years a teacher has been teaching, and “lanes” refers to how much education the teacher has. This cost increase is projected to be $469,300. Another possible cost would be a one percent pay increase for staff at $242,800.
Adding it all up, the district is looking at $1,148,061 in new revenues.
After subtracting the costs, the district will have $758,461 in available funds when negotiations begin in April.
The board also approved and signed closing documents on a $173,210 purchase of property east of Northside Elementary School in Montrose; it has tentative plans to create an early childhood center there.
The purchase of 534, 536 and 538 North Uncompahgre Avenue is part of a long term, district-wide strategy to create childhood centers on all district school campuses. The district will now own one half block of space in that area.
Although the district’s plans are long term, the board said the rental units on the property would most likely be torn down with some assistance from the city. The board also discussed the proposed mil levy override set for the November ballot. The district plans to begin its public campaign in May; the board must officially approve ballot language in August, around the same time new state test scores are revealed.
MacHale reminded the board that the district must not use its resources to campaign for the levy increase. He stated that the district’s vision must be to educate the community about a dire need for improvements, by hiring more staff and updating technology.
The board plans to begin recruiting volunteers for that effort next month.