Vail Valley Voices: Citizen group’s suggestions for school district
Last year, the Eagle County School District put out a call to citizens to participate in a Citizens Budget Committee in order to bring in outside eyes to district initiatives, programs, operations and budget challenges, as well as bring forward recommendations to the Board of Education in terms of where the district should make additional cuts and explore increasing revenue opportunities. This group brought a wide variety of private sector expertise to the table, asked a lot of questions, spent many hours reviewing budget reports, asked many more questions, and continued to identify potential areas of reduction and growth. I can tell you that the time spent was not extremely enjoyable, but all who are serving on the committee have a desire to serve taxpayers, the school district, but most importantly, our youth in the district.With $9 million in cuts over the past two years and an additional $5.5 million in cuts anticipated for the 2012-13 school year, the committee reconvened this year (with a few new fresh sets of eyes) in order to develop another round of recommendations for the Board of Education to consider. At the Dec. 20 meeting, the ommittee offered up the following:n Close New America High School campus and absorb students into existing district programs to create building and administrative efficiencies. n Consider consolidating the two Red Canyon High School campuses into one.n Make no motion of closing or consolidating proposed upvalley schools without hard numbers. n Strongly consider reducing the transportation budget by 20 percent (i.e., eliminating routes, outsourcing services, etc.).n Aggressively pursue professional sponsorships to support Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in partnership with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, with a goal of covering costs and generating additional revenue for the district. n Consider efficiencies of: district office; building capacities; scheduling and programming; administration; understanding variance capabilities for state-required mandates; Exceptional Student Services (Gifted and Talented and Special Education); make the school lunch program and athletic programs break even.Additionally, the committee recommends the Board of Education consider passing the increasing cost of the health plan to employees and not the district, and/or decreasing benefit levels altogether. Moving ahead, the Citizens Budget Committee will continue to make educated financial recommendations to the Board of Education as to where we feel that the district can be more efficient. We are trying to not be emotionally involved in any recommendations. There is not a school or program in the district that has not positively impacted someone’s life. Unfortunately in times of scarcity, unpopular decisions must be made. Beyond focusing on cuts, we are also seeking ways to capitalize on some of the special offerings that our district has in place that might be able to help fund other programs and schools. We would love to hear any ideas that are out there.Derrick Wiemer is a member of the Eagle County School District’s Citizens Budget Committee.