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By Chris Selle
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | With the adjournment of the 71st General Assembly of the Colorado Legislature, school districts are now in the process of making sense of the legislation passed by our elected officials. Every legislative session includes some focus on education, and 2017 was no different. Unlike many other years, the school finance act was not passed until the last day of the session. In speaking with veteran school officials that have observed many, many more legislative sessions than I, none can remember a legislative session in which the passage of the school finance act came so late in the session.
Fortunately, the Meeker School District has sufficient financial reserves to act as a buffer, and we are not at the mercy of our elected officials in developing our preliminary budget. Because we have chosen to intentionally and mindfully spend some of these reserves on programs that benefit student learning, the impact of the legislative decisions is simply reflected in changes to our overall deficit.
The Meeker School District Board of Education has recognized the only way to meet our student’s learning needs is to continue spending a portion of our financial reserves. This is a short term fix to provide our students with a quality education, but is not the long term solution to the problem. Regardless of the metric used, Colorado ranks at or near the bottom of all 50 states in terms of funding for public education. As such, deficit spending has become a necessary strategy to provide a quality education for children in the Meeker School District. The uses for these funds are not extravagant. Rather, our budget deficit is used to provide basic educational services such as: appropriate student/teacher ratios, full day kindergarten, usable curriculum materials, safe and reliable transportation and current technology resources. At some point, our financial reserves will deplete. The day will come when we must increase revenues at a state and/or local level if we hope to provide our students with the education they deserve.
Many community members are aware that we added full day kindergarten for the 2016-17 school year, and because we had 70 fifth grade students in 2016-17, we added a third fifth grade teacher. The 2016-17 budget also included an effort to maintain competitive salaries and benefits for school staff. There is no more important variable in a child’s learning than the adults who work with that child. Thus, in order to attract and retain excellent staff, we must compensate these individuals as best as we possibly can. With surplus funds from the 2015-16 school year we were also able to address a number of facility, transportation, technology and curriculum needs which also positively impact student learning.
Keeping these items in mind, we will add a third teacher to the sixth grade team in 2017-18, as there will be 70 sixth grade students next year. We have also reinstated an elementary/middle school counselor to help support the growing social/emotional needs we observe in our student population. The 2017-18 budget aims to continue allocating funds to improve staff compensation and to provide further facility, transportation, technology, and curriculum resources that were not addressed this year.
In spite of the funding constraints in Colorado and in Meeker, we still have much to celebrate in our community and schools. The adopted vision of the Meeker School District is “Excellence in All We Do.” Meeker Excellence is on display daily in our classroom and schools, despite the financial injustice imposed on our schools and students. Our school district and community is blessed with hard-working adults focused on helping students learn, and students who regularly achieve phenomenal accomplishments. For these reasons, regardless of funding difficulties, I am proud to be a Meeker Cowboy!