School District proposes budget & takes final vote tonight

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by Marissa Lorenz
The District Accountability Committee (DAC) of the West Grand School District (WGSD) recently hosted a community meeting to present the proposed Fiscal Year ‘21 District Budget, which would guide spending for the 2020-2021 school year. The meeting was open to the first 10 in attendance and the rest of the community by Zoom. The proposed budget was available on the District website.

Superintendent Dr. Darrin Peppard opened the discussion, conceding that the budget “is very much a moving target right now,” given the uncertainty in government revenues and spending following the COVID-19 crisis. He outlined the State’s budgeting process and noted that recent considerations were proposing anywhere from $380 million to $672 million in cuts to education, the last “about a 15 percent cut in typical spending by Colorado on education.”

Peppard indicated that he and Finance Director Martha Schake had prepared the FY21 proposed budget with a 7 percent cut in mind. “The amount of frustration the two of us have had through this process–normally, we would know what our numbers look like. Normally, we would know the target we’re trying to hit. Right now, we just don’t know those.”

Of immediate note was a drop in anticipated per-pupil funding, going from $10,324.65 in FY20 to $9,324.10 in FY21, almost identical to per-pupil funding three years ago. This change in State funding along with an anticipated decline in enrollment, dropping from 443.4 in FY20 to 440.3 for FY21, already accounts for a nearly $500,000 reduction in revenues for the next school year.

Revenues were projected to be relatively the same next year from student activity fees, the transportation fund, and the bond redemption fund. Yet even with nearly $400,000 in cuts to General Fund Expenditures, the budget did not balance. The summary showed an anticipated $7,480,265 in revenues and $7,903,374 in expenditures for the upcoming school year. That negative gap between income and expenditures has continued to increase since FY17, being -$98,671 in that year, -$325,422 last year, and anticipated to be -$423,109 in the next school year.

Proposed salary budgets
Nearly 80 percent of the District’s budget goes to salary and benefits, including medical and retirement benefits for teachers and staff the cost of which increased somewhat for the coming year. It is an area where it’s hard to cut, without cutting positions. Peppard states that, while all last-year’s teachers were offered contract renewals, there were five resignations. All five positions have already been filled, but there is often a slight savings to Districts when seasoned teachers leave and more novice teachers are hired at a lower salary level.

The proposed budget shows a number of salary reductions, including $20,000 in teacher salaries, $5,000 in Title I teacher salaries, $40,700 in special ed salaries at the elementary school; $500 in middle school teacher salaries; and $1,000 in language arts teacher salary and $9,000 in counselor salary at the high school. The budget also reflects some salary increases at the high school, such as $1,180 to vocational ag, $1,716 to science, and $7,500 to business teacher salary (a salary that has increased 150 percent since FY18 when it was introduced to the budget). Budgeted salaries were also reduced at the new early childhood center, with $1,280 less budgeted for the cares teacher salary and $39,959 less for a paraprofessional that is not needed at this time.

A new salary schedule for coaches and extra-curricular sponsors was recently adopted and its impact can be seen in increases to middle school boys’ basketball, football, and wrestling coaches, and high school football coaching stipends.
At this time, contract renewals have not been offered to classified staff, including office staff, maintenance, transportation, and food service employees. The proposed budget reflected a staff cut to the middle school administrative team, with a $38,599 total savings, and a total $57,476 savings for a high school maintenance position that was never filled last year.

The District employs seven administrators– a superintendent, two principals, two assistant principals, an instructional coach, and the early childhood center director. It pays directors of finance, maintenance, transportation, technology, and food service.

Of these administrative and directorial positions, only the superintendent would see a pay raise in the proposed budget, of $1,680. However, when questioned, Peppard explained that those were contracted amounts at the time of his hiring and that he would “as soon as not accept any raise.”

Student materials and staff development
Other marked changes in the proposed FY21 budget, when compared to that of FY20, include a significant increase in textbook spending and an equally notable decrease in staff development allocations.

The District has been working to examine their existing curricula and strategizing on how to align it across grades. They have researched new materials and budgeted $43,000 each for the elementary and middle schools and $41,000 for the high school, representing a $31,000 increase for each school or $93,000 more than the total $36,000 budgeted in 2019-2020.

Staff development, on the other hand, sees a decrease in budgeted funds. Staff development itself is reduced by $25,000, from $40,000 to $15,000, well below any numbers presented for previous years’ budgets. In-service and curriculum development funds have been cut in half, by $3,000 each. The post-secondary tuition program received a $3,000 or 8.3 percent cut. And the funds allocated for recruiting high-quality teachers was reduced $8,000 or 38 percent.

These reductions in staff improvement monies come in a year following a drop in almost all of the District’s standardized testing results. 2019 CSAP results, released last August, indicate 2 percent fewer students from 3rd through 8th grades met or exceeded grade-level expectations in language arts and 4.5 percent fewer students in those grades met or exceeded grade-level expectations in math. 2019 scores showed 36 percent of students meeting or exceeding language arts expectations, compared with 38 percent in 2018, and only 22.6 percent of students meeting
or exceeding math expectations, compared to 27.1 percent in 2018.

Cuts to recruitment funds were explained by a higher retention rate among staff this year, and therefore a reduced need for helping new teachers with such things as moving costs.

Capital Reserve, a strength
The Capital Reserve was presented as a strength, with a beginning fund balance of $420,211. Revenues for the coming year look good for the fund, with a bolstering $397,000 from the Electric Bus grant, awarded earlier this year. It shows a $247,000 increase over last year’s revenues.

However, the bus grant money will go directly out for the purchase of the bus. The budget indicates only $200,000, or $150,000 less than in FY2020, being transferred into the Capital Reserve fund from the General fund.

Remaining funds are designated to copier leases, district scanning, resurfacing and painting the high school and K8 gym floors, fire extinguishers, purchase equipment, and other various maintenance and safety spends. The end funding balance is anticipated to be by $36,000.

Amendment process and vote TONIGHT
The West Grand School District Board of Education met in workshop on Tuesday night and continued the budget examination.

Director of Finance Schake indicates that the Board directed the Finance team to “cut $200,000 from expenses and to move forward with curriculum purchases.”

They will meet again, Thursday, June 25, 2020, at 6:00 pm to review changes and vote on the final proposed budget.

To view budget documents or for Zoom sign-in instruction, go to wgsd.us.

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