Eagle County schools to cut $3.3M | VailDaily.com

Eagle County schools to cut $3.3M

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY – Phil Onofrio said he can’t remember the last time state funding for Eagle County public schools went down.

Yet that’s the scenario Onofrio, the district’s chief financial officer, is bracing for as he crafts next school year’s budget.

The budget calls for shaving $3.3 million from the district’s operating expenses for next year. A wage freeze for teachers and 50 fewer staff positions are among the changes for next year.

However, total proposed expenses are up compared with last year, partly due to proposed renovations at the old Battle Mountain High School.

On Wednesday night, the school board looked at the tentative budget for 2010/11. The board is set to vote on the budget June 9. No tax increases are included in the budget. The district sets the property tax rate in December, based on the assessed value of properties and state law, Onofrio said.

School officials expect to spend $54.7 million on operating costs for next school year, down 5.7 percent from the $58 million the district spent this year.

Most of those cuts fell within salaries and benefits, which comprise 78 percent of the district’s operating expenses.

District officials expect to spend $42.4 million on salaries and benefits next year, down $3.2 million compared with this school year.

As for state funding for next year, Onofrio cites some grim statistics.

He expects the district to receive roughly $42 million from the state next year, down about $3 million compared with this year. He expects funding per pupil to drop by $434, to $7,113.

“This is the first time in memory it’s actually gone down,” Onofrio said.

Although the district tightened up operating expenses, the total expenses are actually on the rise. School officials expect total expenses for 2010/11 to reach about $113 million, up from $106 million this year.

“We have some restricted funds that must be spent on construction and debt, which can skew our total spending year to year,” Onofrio said. “The real story is that our operating spending is down significantly.”

Construction projects are the main reason for the increase. Next year’s budget includes about $10.5 million for proposed renovations to the old Battle Mountain High School. The school board voted in March to transform the vacant Eagle-Vail building into a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school for Minturn Middle School and Meadow Mountain Elementary students.

The budget also includes about $15 million to pay back money the district borrowed for past construction projects such as the new Battle Mountain High School in Edwards and renovations to Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

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