District facing deficit

Officials predict $250,000 shortfall

Increases in Steamboat Springs School District expenses are projected to outpace revenue gains for the second consecutive year, leaving district officials with the task of cutting an estimated $250,000 from the 2004-05 budget before July 1.

But unlike last year, when recommendations for budget cuts weren't announced until late spring, Superintendent Donna Howell already has devised a plan to eliminate four-fifths of the projected deficit. Cindy Simms was superintendent during last year's budgeting process.

"We're in times where resources are becoming scarce, so we have to be looking and planning," Howell said. "I want all the information out there up front prior to the time for the (Education) Fund Board's decisions."

Howell and Finance Director Dale Mellor said not recommending the renewal of two elementary school teachers paid for this year with Education Fund dollars will save the district $100,000 while allowing it to remain in compliance with administrative and School Board policies stipulating class-size levels.

The School Board accepted the two-teacher gift from the Fund Board last year after it rejected a similar gift for three teachers. The Fund Board gift was only for one year.

The district also plans to decrease the amount of money in each school's "white budget" to help lessen the impact of the budget cuts, Mellor said.

Money in the white budget is used for discretionary items such as textbooks and supplies, Mellor said. White budget money not spent by a school during the course of a school year is carried over to that school's white budget for the next year.

The cumulative carryover from unspent white budgets at district schools ranges from $112,000 to $150,000 each year, Howell said.

Howell is proposing that the district eliminate a total of $100,000 from school white budgets for the 2004-05 school year.

The combined savings of not retaining the two teachers gifted by the Fund Board and tightening the white budgets of each school will net an estimated $200,000 in savings, leaving the district an additional $50,000 to cut.

"We haven't discussed where the other $50,000 will come from," Howell said.

Howell emphasized that the planned cuts are only in draft form. They could change drastically if the Fund Board's Educational Excellence Commission decides to request funding for the two elementary school teachers and the Fund Board accepts that request.

The budget cuts are necessary because the district is projecting a 4 percent increase in expenses next school year compared with a 2 percent increase in revenue. Both figures are estimates, Mellor said. The district will have a more precise idea of its deficit once the state announces per-pupil, funding levels this spring.

One factor contributing to the projected deficit is declining student enrollment.

Colorado public schools receive funding based on a per-pupil amount, which is determined by a financial formula. As of this week, Mellor is projecting the district will receive funding for nine fewer students than it received for the 2003-04 school year. At more than $7,000 per student, that decline equates to more than $63,000 in lost revenue.

Increases in district expenses are, in part, because of an estimated 10 percent increase in health insurance costs for district staff and a 3 percent increase in salaries. Both figures also are preliminary, Mellor said.

The district was forced to cut $346,000 from its budget last June.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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