MSD settles most plans for next year; cuts still being made

MEEKER I The trustees of Meeker School District RE-1 (MSD) finalized the four-day school week calendar for FY 2014-15, received financial support from special taxing districts, made a $70,000 cut to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and plans to make another 10 percent in cuts where they can.
Superintendent Mark Meyer projected nearly $350,000 in cuts and savings for next year.
The cuts don’t include programs.
The high school music and the family/consumer science teaching positions will be filled. The MSD board agreed in principle to continue to use reserve funds if needed to avoid cutting programs like Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and band.
“We are going to work through it,” said MSD President Bill DeVergie at the public forum on Thursday night.
About 40 people attended the forum, which was not as well attended as January’s emergency meeting. Costs savings and one-time funds from Colorado have reduced MSD’s projected $1.2 million dollar FY2013-14 deficit to $495,514. The deficit will be covered with reserves.
Reductions in hours for bus drivers and food service workers will be needed to implement the four-day school week ($70,000) for FY 2014-15 and the receptionist position at the administration building will not be filled ($35,000).
“Everybody will be asked to pick up more tasks,” DeVergie said.
Passing House Bill (HB) 1250, which allocated funds to MSD, was “nothing short of a miracle,” MSD Superintendent Mark Meyer said.
The School Finance Act (HB 1298) and HB 1250 were also the result of concentrated lobbying by Colorado school districts and superintendents. The School Finance Act (HB 1298) includes a modest increase in base funding for MSD, about $377 more in per-pupil spending compared to FY2013-14.
Although some school districts will benefit next year from the change in the negative factor in HB 1298, MSD’s negative factor will be unaffected by the School Finance Act. According to spreadsheets available on the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) website, MSD’s negative factor will still be more than $5,000 next year.
It may take a few years before Meeker sees a benefit in the annual reduction of the negative factor. The $110 million in HB 1298 is the first step in a five-year effort to use all but $400 million from the state’s education fund. This year’s legislative session had no dramatic increase in school funding nor has it removed the negative factor cuts started in 2011.
The negative factor represents the amount of money every year that Colorado is underfunding schools compared to 1989 levels corrected for inflation. This benchmark level of funding is required by Amendment 23, passed by the voters in 2000.
Since the financial crisis in 2011, the Colorado General Assembly has implemented the negative factor to reduce state support for educational funding. It has yet to significantly reduce the annual negative factor, despite the recovery of Colorado’s economy. The negative factor will be almost $900 million statewide for 2015 even with the $110 million in reductions in HB 1298.
The calendar for the four-day school week was passed at the MSD Board meeting on May 6.
The first day of school will be Aug. 20. The elementary school will have classes from 8 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., the junior high from 7:55 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and the high school from 7:55 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
There are still two weeks for Christmas, three days for Thanksgiving and a full week for spring break. Total student days would be 150 for 2014-15 year as compared to 171 for this year. Students would go to school on Fridays when Monday is a holiday.
According to the CDE, MSD’s base budget for FY 2014-15 will be $4,880,210. Savings from other taxing districts will not change this allocation from CDE.
For example, when the Cemetery District allocated $30,000 this year toward building maintenance, funds from the general fund originally for this purpose were freed up to cover teacher salaries and reduce the deficit.
Although welcome, most of the help from the state and special taxing districts will not impact the long-term revenues needed by MSD. An increase in the mill levy above what CDE sets each year in December could be used to meet projected annual deficits ($145,651) and possibly offset the 10 percent cut in non-salaried/benefits line items purposed for next year ($145,913).