EAGLE — After Colorado lawmakers cut $1 billion statewide from schools during the recession, Eagle County schools open this week with a drop back in their bucket.
When the recession hit, the school district was forced to slash its budget by 22 percent and shed 90 jobs and $9 million in two years.
With Colorado’s economy slowly crawling out of the primordial economic ooze, Eagle County’s schools will get $350,000 more than last year in state funding.
The school district will spend the money on staff and teacher pay raises, reducing class sizes, building repairs that have been postponed and curriculum supports.
It works out like this:
• Staff sees a cost of living adjustment to pay based on their individual evaluations to average 4 percent.
• Teacher-student ratios decline from 17-to-1 to 16.5-to-1 at secondary levels and 16-to-1 to 15.5-to-1 at elementary levels. “Not a huge reduction, or worth shouting about, but a step in the right direction,” said Dan Dougherty, the school district’s communications manager.
• Adding curricular supports for teachers.
• Rotating outdated technology, fixing roofs and replacing broken things.
“We’re keeping our best teachers, reducing class size a tiny amount, improving their curriculum and giving them better access to technology, all of which are shown in research to improve student achievement,” Dougherty said.
FUN WITH FUNDING
Colorado’s school funding formula breaks to three basic questions:
How much do they get?
Where does it come from?
What are the school district’s stated priorities?
It gets way wonkier, and we’ll get to that later.
Basically, the state Legislature came up with this formula to ensure that kids across Colorado are being funded at roughly the same amount. Colorado’s 178 school districts range from among the nation’s poorest in places like Costillo County to Aspen, among the nation’s most affluent.
By the numbers, Eagle County’s school funding breaks out like this:
• 6,378.7: The Colorado Department of Education’s projection for the number of students in Eagle County.
• $7,288.11: The amount the state funds for each student.
• $46,487,965: The total amount in state funding, multiplying the number of kids time per-pupil funding.
That $46.4 million in per-pupil funding is generated like this:
• $28.5 million: The amount coming from local property taxes.
• $1.4 million: Specific ownership taxes coming from locals, for things like auto registrations.
• $16.6 million: The amount the state pays as “equalization.”
Eagle County’s actual student count will likely be higher than the state’s 6,376.7 projection, but that doesn’t necessarily create more money, Dougherty said.
Student counts are based on the number of kids in their seats on Oct. 1. If they roll in after that, then the state does not increase funding, and the amount of per-pupil funding becomes a long division question.
FOR THE WONKY ONES
How do they calculate half a kid?
The 6378.7 student count includes partial kids, half kids and two-thirds kids, which even the non-wonky ones among us can see.
It’s a bit of an abstract accounting factor. The formula begins with the base per-pupil funding, then changes for at-risk categories such as special ed categories.
Also, if you’re the state, you can have half a kid because they pay 50 percent for a kindergartner and 80 percent for a preschooler — if they qualify for special ed.
They don’t actually get more money, but it does bend the budget total to arrive at the magical dollar amount. If it all seems more abstract and theoretical than an astrology chart, it is.
Here’s what’s concrete.
According to the Eagle County Assessor’s office, 31.5 percent of local every Eagle County property tax dollar goes to the public school district, the biggest bite of your property tax dollar by far. Eagle County government takes the second biggest bite at 8 percent; Colorado Mountain College is third at 7 percent.
HOW WE GOT HERE
The first versions of last year’s $23 billion Colorado state budget included an education funding bill that offered to return $75 million of that, but the money came with strings attached about how much of that money should be spent.
That set off a lightning storm from 170 of Colorado’s school superintendents, led by Eagle County’s Jason Glass. Those school chiefs asserted that since there were no strings attached when the money was taken away, there should be none as it’s slowly restored.
By some calculations, Eagle County schools should be getting another $8 million this year alone — if Colorado’s Constitution were strictly followed. Advocates refer to the absence of that money as the negative factor.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.