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MEEKER I At their work session on Feb. 17, the Meeker Board of Education began discussing the budget for fiscal year 2015-16. School district superintendent Mark Meyer reported that the four-day school week produced a savings, from July through December, “not necessarily all-inclusive,” of roughly $70,000.
This figure is comprised of saving $10,470 on substitute teachers (current teachers have been absent less with the four-day week), $24,085 on transportation (partially attributable to lower fuel costs), $7,130 on utilities, $8,023 on custodial supplies, $16,596 on custodial maintenance, and $3,715 on food service.
District Finance Director Janelle Urista said Meyer had projected a $70,000 savings for the whole year, so the district is well ahead on its savings.
The board looked at a preliminary FY 15-16 budget deficit of $310,208 based on projected revenues of $5,612,150 and expenses of $5,922,358. Meyer reminded the board that his figures are all preliminary, that school financing is very fluid and is especially dependent on what the Colorado State Legislature does on school funding for next year.
Additional increased health insurance costs of $70,715, employee retirement costs of $26,000 and employee pay-step increases of $64,000 result in a total preliminary deficit projection of $470,923.
Meyer reported that this year’s projected operating fund balance (reserve), after absorbing this year’s budget deficit, is expected to be $3,609,139 assuming the four-day school week savings continue. This is equivalent, Meyers indicated, to 7.49 months in operating reserve at the end of this school year.
Assuming the four-day cost savings persist, the 2015-16 deficit would be reduced by $140,000 (two times the $70,000) to $330,923. If operating reserve is used to cover this deficit, the reserve at the end of the fiscal year would be reduced to $3,278,216, an approximate reserve of 6.62 months.
In addition, Meyer noted that teachers already at the top of their step scale would not see any pay increase with the step increases included above. He suggested, therefore, that Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) might be a better approach to compensation. Meyer pledged to investigate what a 1 percent COLA would add to the deficit.
Meyer’s question to the board was how much of a reduction in the operating reserve, as expressed in months, they would be comfortable with.
“The State Department of Education recommends that districts not drop below a six-month reserve,” he said.
After considerable discussion about funding potentials, possible add-on hires and other district needs, there was general agreement that they were comfortable with a six-month reserve with some board members suggesting that they’d go even lower if it was necessary.
Discussions about the 2015-16 budget included a review of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment of academic progress in Meeker’s second through eighth grades from last year to this year.
Based on their Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test scores, the assessment showed a 1 percent increase in math and a negligible 0.29 percent decrease in reading across the six grade school years.
The board also looked at student-to-teacher ratios.
Meeker Elementary is projected to have an average ratio of 16.77 (11.65 including para-professionals) to 1 next year compared to 17.00 and 11.81 this year. Barone Middle School is projected at an average ratio of 15.67 (13.02 with the para-professionals) to 1 next year compared to 16.00 and 13.30 this year. Meeker High School is projected to have an average ratio of 14.14 (13.15 with para-professionals) to 1 compared to 13.53 and 12.59 this year.
The only real outlier in the elementary school is next year’s fourth grade with a predicted 36 to 1 ratio, causing Meyer to recommend the hiring of an additional fourth grade teacher for next year. Total students projected for the district is 698 with 369 in elementary, 141 in middle and 188 in high school.
Other factors analyzed by the board were the recommendations of the District and Building Accountability Committees for the 2015-16 budget and the District Fiscal Advisory Team advice for the current school year.
The aging nature of the district’s transportation fleet was also reviewed.
One 66-passenger activity bus is 29 years old with 143,763 miles on it; another is 24 years old with 218,454 miles. A route, 65 passenger bus is 18-years-old with 217,092 miles. A new bus is projected to cost $120,000.
The need for capital maintenance upgrades was emphasized.
Board member Mindy Burke stressed the importance of finding a long-term solution to funding issues. The board agreed that using reserve funds can’t go on much longer.
The possibility of closing one of the district’s buildings was mentioned.
The board will continue budget work at their next regular meeting March 3 at 7 p.m.