COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Local school boards are putting together next year's budget expecting a cut in state funding. The trouble is, they still don't know how big the cut will be.
The legislative session was delayed for several weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While versions of the budget have passed both the house and senate, a final bill has yet to be agreed on. The delay has kept districts from know how much per-pupil funding to expect next year.
"That's a key number in terms of how K-12 education funding is distributed around the state," said Brett Ridgeway, Chief Business Officer for Falcon School District 49.
He said schools were told to plan on at least a 5 percent cut compared to last year's funding level. However, the cut could be as high as 8 percent. Ridgeway wants to keep any cuts away from the classroom.
"Are there any supplies that we can cut back on, or are there maintenance projects may be that we want to defer," Ridgeway said. "Then there's another layer of people that have left voluntarily and the decision of do we replace that role or not."
Given the uncertainty and their budget deadline of July 1, Ridgeway asked the board of education last week to consider declaring a state of emergency or state of exigency. Such a measure would give their district more flexibility in creating the budget. However, it also lets the board consider options like furloughs, hiring freezes, pay freezes, and a potential reduction in force.
"A lot of things that we're having to consider aren't things we want to do, but just things might have to come to pass depending on what that final number is," Ridgeway said.
The reduction in force language was alarming to high school science teacher Mary Lougee.
"That is a giant consequence that nobody, I hope nobody wants it to get to that point," she said.
She said the district experienced a reduction in force in the 2018 school year and hopes the school board would consider pulling money from savings before looking to cut staff.
"When you raise that red flag, I want to say look, there's another pot of money," she said.
Like most Colorado school districts, Falcon will receive relief money from the federal stimulus bill. Around $14 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds will be distributed to schools in El Paso County, and D-49's share is about $1.2 million.
Ridgeway is anticipating a shortfall of anywhere from $5-8 million, depending upon the final per-pupil funding amount. Colorado Governor Jared Polis is also a special allocation to K-12 schools from the state's share of stimulus funding.
Both the state and federal relief funds have limitations on how schools can spend it. For example, the ESSER money could be used to buy new Chromebooks for students who had to switch to distance learning.
"However we are able to apply those funds, we have to be careful that we are able to operate the entire school year and also to also use the money the way that they're being qualified," Ridgeway said.
The D-49 school board will meet next on Thursday. A final vote on the 2020-2021 budget isn't expected until June 24.
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