Eagle County School District holding firm on teacher cuts | VailDaily.com

Eagle County School District holding firm on teacher cuts

EAGLE, Colorado – State funding cuts to local schools won’t be as deep as expected, but that doesn’t mean fewer teachers and staffers will get pink-slipped.

Eagle County schools will take a $2.3 million funding hit from the state next year, but that’s $700,000 less than the $3 million they were expecting, according to the state’s latest budget numbers.

Still, the district plans to cut up to 30 teachers and 10 staff members, district officials said Tuesday.

“We are very pleased that the cuts are not as bad as anticipated, but realize that an enrollment drop of only 100 students (an average of five students at each of the district’s 19 schools) would wipe out that $700,000,” said Dr. Sandra Smyser, school superintendent.

The school board decided to stay with the $6.5 million in cuts for which they had originally planned – a budget gap created by a combination of state funding cuts and increasing costs. They’ll talk further about the budget at today’s school board meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. in the district office on Third Street in Eagle.

Schools across the state will see a 4.6 percent reduction in their total funding, said Sen. Jean White, who represents Eagle County in the Colorado state Legislature.

That’s $323 per student in Eagle County, White said.

“Everyone has been feeling the cuts, but the reductions we’re taking this year will help insulate the schools from greater cuts in the future,” White said.

Statewide funding for kindergarten-12th grade took a $250 million cut, about 25 percent less than Gov. John Hickenlooper had first proposed, White said.

Each of Colorado’s 178 school districts are dealing with the same thing, but school board member Brian Nolan likes Eagle County’s position. The local school district has a $12 million reserve from which it will draw $1.5 million next year, part of the package to bridge the budget gap.

“We’re in a better position than most districts around the state,” Nolan said.

Declining student enrollment is part of what’s driving teacher cuts, district officials said.

The district is down 75 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, from 6,031 in 2009-10 to 5,956 this year. The district had budgeted for a small increase in students this year.

The state’s share of school funding is doled out on a per-pupil basis and that’s being cut by $323 per pupil, White said, as the state deals with its own $1 billion shortfall.

Of the 30 proposed teacher cuts, 23 of them are for “right sizing,” staffing down to exactly the projected enrollment for next year, Smyser said.

“Every year we end up overstaffed at some buildings because enrollment fluctuates over the summer,” Smyser said.

For example, one school might have lost a few students and should lose .4 of a teacher, Smyser explained. Realistically, it may be impossible to let .4 of someone go after the school year starts, she said.

Or another building might need the .4 because their enrollment came in higher than expected, she said.

“In a normal year, these fluctuations are built into the budget and we simply readjust the following year. This year, however, is not normal,” Smyser said. “After drastic cuts last year, and even worse cuts this year, we simply cannot afford to staff our buildings with much leeway.”

They’re making their best professional judgments about next year’s enrollments for next year, but they’ll just have to wait, Smyser said.

“We will staff extremely tightly and continue to cut other budgets so that we will be safe if enrollment does decline again,” Smyser said.

The school district employs 900 people: 520 teachers and 380 administration and support staff, said Brian Childress, school district human resources director.

That cut comes as expenses increase.

The $1 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant is expiring. That helps pay for the district’s performance pay program for teachers. That spending is built into the district’s compensation system, so would either have to be absorbed or cut.

For now, the district is going halves on it, cutting it to $500,000 next year.

Health care and retirement expenses are going up by about $1 million next year, according to the district’s budget package.

The districts pay 1 percent more each year to its employees’ retirement fund, PERA, a requirement under state law, district officials said.

At the same time, health insurance costs are expected to increase by an estimated $400,000.

Health insurance costs increase about 12 percent a year, according to that industry’s projections.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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