Eagle County school officials eye budget cuts
Eagle County, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – As the debate rages over how to balance the state budget, local school officials are bracing for proposed funding cuts.
Eagle County School District could be looking at a $2 million drop in state funding for the 2010-11 school year, Chief Financial Officer Phil Onofrio said. That’s based on a $260 million, or 4.6 percent, cut in K-12 education funding included in Bill Ritter’s proposed 2010-11 budget.
If the cuts become a reality, the district could need to cut $4 million from its expenses for 2010-11, Onofrio said. That’s about 8 percent of the expected $50 million in expected genderal fund expenses, he said.
As far as specifics on what the district will trim, Onofrio said school officials don’t have the answers yet.
“We know that 85 percent of our budget is salaries and benefits, so we have to look at that,” he said. “We’re hoping we’re going to be able to reduce our staff through natural attrition. We’re hoping to avoid layoffs.”
School Board President Connie Kincaid-Strahan echoed that: “We’re trying to avoid loss of personnel because people all around town the past couple years have lost jobs.”
Strahan said the board is negotiating with the teacher’s education association and brainstorming other solutions. “We’re looking at pulling some money from our reserves if we need to, trying to fund some positions from grants as opposed to out of the budget.”
On top of the proposed funding cuts, state officials this past summer asked school districts statewide to hold back $110 million from their spending for a crisis reserve. The Legislature was expected to return that money to its coffers this month. Onofrio said the district has placed $850,000 in a reserve fund, and is awaiting news on whether the state will recall the money.
As for future years, school officials say that even if the district dodges deeper state funding cuts, it still faces increases in fixed costs like pension contributions and health insurance.
“Even if the state doesn’t cut us futher, we’re going to have to make further cuts in the future,” Onofrio said.
School officials are estimating that they may have to cut an additional $600,000 from the 2011-12 budget, along with $1 million from the 2012-13 budget.
“We’re just modeling now,” Onofrio said. “We don’t really know. We’re just saying ‘What if? What if? What if?”
As district officials plan for next year’s spending, they are working under the assumption that enrollment will stay flat, Onofrio said.
An outside consultant had predicted the district’s student body would rise from about 6,031 students this school year to 6,103 students next year, Onofrio said.
However, the district is using more conservative estimates to plan its budget, he said.
“We don’t know how many people will leave the valley because of the economy,” he said.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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