Joint Budget Committee to help MSD with deficit

MEEKER I Meeker School District and two other rural Colorado school districts were promised aid from the state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC) to fix reductions in their mid-year funding.
After a grassroots lobbying effort out of Meeker and DeBeque, the JBC voted unanimously last week to sponsor legislation that would provide relief to the three districts hit hardest by the steep mid-year cuts.
Paula Stephenson of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus credited the lobbying of state leaders and the JBC by Meeker Schools Superintendent Mark Meyer, Meeker School Board President Bill deVergie, Alan Dillon from DeBeque and other community members for the success.
“It was grassroots community advocacy at its best, and it worked,” Stephenson said.
According to the JBC plan, Meeker would receive more than $500,000 from the State Education Fund. JBC staff Craig Harper made the recommendation to the board and blamed lower revenue due to changes in assessed property valuation for Meeker’s dilemma.
Meeker School District as well as the Pawnee and DeBeque districts were promised aid from the JBC to fix the reductions in mid-year funding.
Although this is a welcome development it is not a done deal as all appropriation bills have to be approved by the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The JBC voted 6-0 to cover mid-year shortfalls in the three districts at a total cost of less than $1 million. The plan still has to make it through the budget process, but the funds could be available as early as June.
Committee members stressed that the aid would be a one-time event and that the three districts should plan for similar reductions in FY 2014-15 with no state relief.
State Rep. Bob Rankin from House District 57 spoke in support of the plan and state Sen. Pat Steadman made the motion Friday afternoon.
The Meeker, DeBeque and Pawnee districts have in common that they are fully supported by local funding. However, the reasons they need help are different. For example, DeBeque had an increase in enrollment while in Meeker the problem is largely due to lower property assessments.
The JBC struggled with a formula for providing the funding, but in the end decided to focus on just these districts and to fully fund the mid-year reductions.
“It’s the ones that have fallen off the cliff that I want to help,” said JBC staff member Craig Harper. In the JBC staff memo recommending the relief, the calculated mid-year reductions were $528,223 for Meeker, $30,483 for DeBeque and $179,982 for the Pawnee School District.
This relief will not, however, fix all of Meeker’s budget problems for fiscal year 2013-14 since the revised budget passed by the Meeker School Board on Jan. 21 identified a $1.2 million overall shortfall. At that meeting, the board declined to make mid-year cuts, but instead decided that the deficit would be covered by using part of the $3.9 million in district year-end (reserve) funds.
The Colorado Department of Education recommends school districts maintain a six-month reserve. Considering the aid recommended by the JBC, the MSD’s FY 2013-14 deficit would now be about $727,000, leaving reserve funds of roughly $3.2 million. Reserves of $3.2 million would cover less than six months of FY 2013-14 expenditures.