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Eagle County Schools faces funding cuts brought on by COVID-19

Colorado Department of Education told the state’s 178 schools districts to plan for state funding cuts up to 10%

Eagle County Schools continues to seek input from parents and staff members on the return of school in August.
Daily file photo

EAGLE — The COVID-19-caused economic crisis has local schools facing multi-million dollar funding cuts.

Eagle County Schools says it cuts are expected to hit like this:

  • $1,078,000: Reductions in enrollment (123 fewer students)
  • $6,184,000: Reductions in state per-pupil funding (-10%)
  • $100,000: Reductions in state categorical funding
  • $1,650,000: Reductions in other local revenue
  • $9,012,000: Total budget reductions (-11%)

School Board President Kate Cocchiarella said Wednesday’s presentation about shrinking revenues was tough to hear, “but no one should be surprised.”

Fund balance is currently healthy

To cover some of the funding cuts, the school district will dip into its fund balance.

“That’s what it’s intended for. It will help spread this out significantly,” Sandy Mutchler, the district’s chief operating officer, told the school board Wednesday night.

Right now, the balance for the school district’s general fund — the checkbook by which it conducts its day-to-day business — is a healthy $18.1 million, Mutchler said. Next year’s budget forecasts that the school district will spend $2 million of that, reducing it to $16.1 million.

Budget forecasts indicate that general fund balance will drop from $16.1 million in 2020-21 to $9 million in 2023-24.

“The fund balance is for rainy days. From a financial perspective it feels like it has been raining for a while,” Cocchiarella said.

Lessons from the Great Recession

The district will get through this using some of its Great Recession policies as a model, Superintendent Phil Qualman said.

That recession forced the school district to cut the equivalent of 70 full-time positions.

On the heels of all that, in November 2016, Eagle County voters agreed to increase their taxes to fund building projects and provide $8 million a year to fund salary increases.

However, the tax increase that funds those salary increases sunsets after the 2022-2023 school year. Under the original ballot language, voters could renew it before then.

Education is a labor-intensive industry. Personnel costs consume 80% of the school district’s budget, Mutchler said. The district and teachers union are scheduled to meet next week, Qualman said.

Qualman, perhaps setting an example, asked to forgo a performance bonus up to $10,000.

State budget billions short

Colorado’s state budget could be short of projections by 10%, around $3 billion, and 25% of the state budget’s general fund. State lawmakers are supposed to go back to work this week to hammer out a budget.

In the meantime, the Colorado Department of Education told the state’s 178 school districts to plan for state funding cuts up to 10%. Districts averaged 7.5 percent budget cuts during the Great Recession, Michael Griffith of the Learning Policy Institute says.


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