School funding up slightly, but so are district expenses
By the numbers
Eagle County school district’s 2016-17 budget
$95 million: Total budget
$66 million: General fund, the checkbook by which the school district conducts it day-to-day business
77 percent: The amount of those general fund dollars that pay salaries and benefits
$7,713: Per pupil funding as calculated under Colorado’s School Finance Act
$126: Increase from 2015-16 budget
Source: Eagle County school district
EAGLE — Local schools will get a little more state money next year, but rising retirement, health insurance and personnel costs will devour almost every dime.
The school board approved the 2016-17 budget, which sees a $126 increase in per-pupil funding for each little blessing from above. That brings the total to $7,716 per pupil.
Add it all up, and the total 2016-17 school district budget is $95 million.
The general fund budget is $66 million. That’s the checkbook by which the school district conducts its day-to-day business, like paying people and educating kids.
Asking for a tax increase
While some school districts across the country have rebounded with the economic recovery, Eagle County schools have not, said Kate Cocciarella, school board chair.
School funding was 18 percent below the national average in 2011, and it continues to lag, Cocciarella said.
“Compared to the national average, it’s dropping,” she said.
The school board has made no secret that it’s going to ask voters for more money in the November election.
“This is the reason we’re going to respectfully request a little bit more money, to help these people do the job of educating our young people,” Cocciarella said.
State funding is also crippled by what school officials call the “negative factor.” After the recession hammered the nation, in 2010 the Colorado’s state Supreme Court ruled that the state could forgo part of the voter-mandated funding formula that amounts to 16.1 percent, or $1 billion statewide.
In Eagle County, that negative factor is $6.9 million a year, and will reach $47 million by the end of the 2017 fiscal year, said Sandra Mutchler, school district chief operating officer.
“The problem that we find ourselves in did not happen overnight,” said Tessa Kirchner, school board member.
Currently, Eagle County voters provide an additional $890.12 per student above the state funding. The Aspen school district receives an additional $2,937.72 per student from election overrides.
Education is a labor-intensive industry. Personnel costs (salaries and benefits) consume 77 percent of the district’s general fund. State-mandated increases in retirement funding run 0.5 per year, and will level out in a few years at around 21 percent of each employee’s annual salary.
Skyrocketing health insurance costs and other expenses put the average cost of benefits at 35 percent of salaries.
The school district employs 857 full-time positions.
For now, salaries are frozen, however employees are eligible for a performance bonus of up to 1.5 percent of their annual salary, about $500 for someone earning $50,000 a year.
Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass deferred his bonus, citing the districtwide pay freezes.
School funding formula
Colorado’s School Finance Act determines how education dollars are divvied up. Eagle County Schools will receive $7,716.78 for each student full-time student.
Schools are funded from three sources: local property tax, state funds and vehicle registration fees known as specific ownership taxes.
Because of Eagle County’s higher assessed valuation, local schools are funded largely from local property taxes and get less money from the state compared to many other districts. Districts with lower property values receive more state funding.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.