Meeker School Board ponders budget, may use carry-over funds

MEEKER I The Meeker School District RE-1 (MSD) Board of Education Board held two work sessions last week to discuss next year’s budget.
On Thursday night, a committee was formed to draft and promote a mill levy increase for the November ballot. Natosha Clatterbaugh was chosen as chairman.
No decisions were made at Wednesday’s work session, but a significant change in direction was articulated by MSD Board President Bill deVergie.
“I’m tired of cutting and wonder at what point we stop,” deVergie said.
MSD has been making cuts since 2003, and many on the board said they can’t make further cuts without risking the district’s educational mission. The board discussed using its end-of-year reserves for the next two to five years to maintain current programs.
Board member Bud Ridings shared some of the risks he took in his business and thought using reserves to invest in the future might be a good idea.
“We need to take care of what we have — meaning our people,” Ridings said.
Studies show one bad year takes students three good years to get back, said Barone Middle School Principal Jim Hanks. When asked what was minimum funding, Hanks responded, “I think we are there.”
“These kids can’t put their education on the shelf for a year or two; this is their only shot,” said Mary Strang, president of the Meeker Education Foundation.
Most of the board members talked about finding the “happy medium to get by.”
deVergie said it will take a combination of cost savings like the four-day week, passing a mill levy this fall, having outside help from other special taxing districts and maybe risking annual borrowing to meet payroll.
MSD Supervisor Mark Meyer said that with the current $3.9 million in reserves, MSD is close to needing a loan to meet this year’s payroll obligations. The estimated $3.2 million that would be left in reserves after FY 2013-14 obligations might not be enough to meet payroll and other expenses while waiting for annual tax revenue next year. Interest-free loans are available from the Colorado State Treasurer for this purpose and would likely be needed in future years to alleviate temporary annual deficits if the reserve fund is depleted. School districts must ask for the funds by May 30 and pay them back by June 25.
“If closing a building saves us $12, we should do it, so the money can go toward kids,” board member Tom Allen said when discussing the use of the administration building.
The MSD board made an agreement with Meeker Fire District to do fire safety checks and update fire extinguishers, saving the district up to $15,000. The hospital board has been approached to fund some of MSD’s health functions. Superintendent Mark Meyer said Verizon was interested in a cell tower near the football field, which could be up to $9,600 per year in rent.
The board has contacted Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan (ERBM) Park and Recreation District about a partnership or additional grant. The ERBM has already promised $400,000 toward a new high school track. Discussions are also under way about a reduction in funding for the Rio Blanco Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).
After suggesting Rio Blanco County purchase the old BLM building or the rock school house, in a meeting with several board members, the Rio Blanco County Commissioners turned down any help for the schools.
MSD Transportation Director Roy Wedding discussed cost-savings proposals, including shortening or combining current routes, eliminating routes and using smaller buses.
“The Piceance Creek and Highway 64 bus route should be looked at to save money,” board member Todd Shults said.
Wedding urged the board to work with parents that may be impacted directly. He said the board could consider asking for fees since other Colorado school districts do this. Wedding said he wasn’t offering solutions, just options.
MSD will spend $278,000 for athletic programs in FY 2013-14, and deVergie expressed concern that athletic cuts have not been discussed.
Tim Webber, the executive director of the Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan (WRBM) Recreation and Park District spoke Wednesday night. Rangely voters approved a mill levy crafted by Webber to fund Rangely School District athletics to relieve the Rangely district of extra-curricular expenses. RSD now uses all its per-pupil funds allocated by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) for academic programs.
Webber said that WRBM has no direct responsibility for hiring, firing or other program-related decisions, but estimates that the fiscal oversight saved RSD $40,000 in the first year and it seems to be a success.