State education funding could come up short

As Rangely schools consider cost-cutting moves, superintendent says state funding could be 11 percent short in 2010-2011 school year

RANGELY — While rethinking its budget process and considering ways to cut costs, the Rangely School Board is also bracing for a possible deficit in state funding for education.
“The information we’re getting from the state … we’re looking at an 11 percent shortfall in the education fund by the 2010-2011 school year,” said Superintendent Dwayne Newman, who recently attended a meeting for school superintendents on the western slope. “By statute, it is mandatory the state fund education at a certain level. But if the dollars aren’t there, they aren’t there. The state has to balance its budget, too.”
At a meeting Feb. 23, Newman advised the school board that the time to begin preparing for the shortfall in state funding is now.
“My recommendation to the board is to look at the budget now and start planning, so you have enough reserves in hand to weather the storm,” Newman said. “It’s time to start thinking about reserve funds, so when the revenue shortfall hits, the district doesn’t have to make huge changes in how it operates. All of this ties together with where we’ve been going with the budget. It’s time to make the district more lean and efficient.”
One way the district is considering to become more efficient is through consolidation. The board is studying the possibility of closing Parkview Elementary, the oldest school building in the district, and consolidating preschool through sixth grade at the middle school. Grades seventh through 12th would be at the high school.
“We figure we can save, through consolidation, the cost directly tied to the operation of Parkview and the administrative staffing there, about $430,000,” Newman said. “Administratively, they could go to two principals and a superintendent, instead of three principals and a superintendent, and that would save them about $80,000 a year.”
Newman, who announced his resignation Jan. 26 for personal reasons, effective at the end of June, has doubled as middle school principal, with about 80 percent of his time devoted to superintendent duties, and 20 percent as middle school principal. Amy Ward serves as the assistant middle school principal.
“You just want to lean out the district as much as you can, and still offer the same level of service,” Newman said. “The district needs to be as efficient as it can possibly be.”
A informational meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 10 at the Rangely Middle School gym to seek public input about the proposal to close Parkview Elementary.
“I think it will generate a lot of interest,” Newman said of the March 10 meeting. “The feedback I’m getting right now, it’s not opposition to any idea. The goal (of the meeting) is to inform the community and get public input. We’re saying, ‘Help us come up with a good idea to address the situation we’re in.’ The bottom line is we need to be looking for solutions.”
As the district is going through its budget process for 2010, and looking for ways to save money, the school board is also looking for solutions to deal with a revenue shortfall.
“We’re projecting revenues to be $4.2 million,” Newman said. “The last few years, expenditures have been $4.9 million. So we need to find $700,000. That’s a significant chunk of change for a district this size. We can’t make that up in pencils and pens. We have to think differently about the structure of the district.
“The past few years, (the district) has been spending out of its savings to supplement its yearly operating costs,” Newman said. “That’s been used (to pay for) utilities increases, increases in insurance costs, that sort of thing.”
At a special meeting Feb. 25, the school board approved the “revised scope of work” for the $15 million bond project approved by voters last November.
“The board approved spending about $11.1 million, leaving about $3.6 million in the bond fund,” Newman said. “That $11.1 million includes all of the money that was originally set aside for the district purchases, computers, vehicles, those kinds of things, and the revised scope of work at the middle school and high school. With the money remaining, if the decision is to keep Parkview, then we have $3.6 million to do what we need to do there. If the decision is made to consolidate, then we have $3.6 million to do the work at the other schools.”
The remaining amount of the bond money went toward handling fees.
“The bond passes, and then there are the fees and costs associated with getting the bond done,” Newman said. “And those fees come off the top.”
For now, any work using bond funds at the elementary school is on hold, pending a decision about consolidation.
“We’ve delayed items that might be affected if there is a building closure or consolidation,” Newman said. “Other items we have totally put on the back burner, until we’re sure the bond funds will take care of the needs of the buildings, in whatever configuration the district ends up with. The board made sure they have plenty left in the bond fund if the decision is to leave (Parkview) open, or to make additional changes to the middle school and high school if we consolidate. We still are on track that the renovations should get done this summer before the doors open next fall.”