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Furloughs, staff cuts, bus fees could help D-11 balance budget

March 4, 2011

Colorado Springs School District 11 took out its budget ax last week as the board began to consider about $13 million in cuts for next school year that could mean implementing bus fees, furloughs, fewer teachers and across-the-board pay cuts.

It’s the fourth year of cuts for the district of about 29,450 students. It’s also the biggest cut the district has faced, said D-11 Finance Director Glenn Gustafson.

At a roughly four-hour retreat on Wednesday, the board got a look at what departments are being asked to cut and a tentative timeline for shaping the budget.

School board President Tom Strand said hundreds of ideas were discussed at the retreat.

“Everything is on the table,” he said.

Restructuring and reutilization of schools were among the dozens of items presented to the board at the retreat.

“Just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean they like it,” Gustafson said.

The administration brought the idea of making adjacent West Elementary School and West Middle School a kindergarten through sixth-grade facility, Strand said. Seventh- and eighth-graders would attend Holmes Middle School, or any middle school if they had their own transportation.

The board wants more details, especially on what the savings would be, Strand said. He said that major change should only be considered if it yields significant savings.

One worst-case scenario includes cutting 170 full-time positions, but not all of those would be teachers, Strand said. The board hopes to avoid layoffs, Strand said, but 85 percent of the budget is tied to salaries and benefits.

The district typically sees a turnover of about 200 teachers each year through attrition or job changes, Gustafson said.

“We have more teachers now than we had 10 years ago with 10 percent higher enrollment,” Gustafson said.

Decreasing teaching staff will be considered before districtwide pay cuts, he said.

Changes in the central administration office also are being considered, with Superintendent Nicholas Gledich and Deputy Superintendent Mary Thurman looking ways to increase efficiency and save money, Strand said.

Thurman said vacant positions create the possibility to reorganize. Deputy Superintendent Michael Poore will leave District 11 this summer to take the reins in an Arkansas district.

While administrative leaders continue to figure out details and savings on some potential changes, amounts on some proposals have been projected.

Increasing the walking distance for students in sixth grade and up would save about $400,000. Imposing a transportation fee also is on the list, and potential savings would depend on the fee.

An across-the-board 1 percent pay cut would save almost $1.6 million, according to documents presented at the Wednesday board retreat.

A single furlough day for district employees would save more than $800,000 on a day that was just for staff, such as a professional development day. Food service and transportation employees normally don’t work on the 12 such days in the school year.

If a furlough was on a school day, with all 3,653 full time employees off, the savings would reach about $817,000 — but that would mean no class for students.

However, the best interest of students remains a primary concern, board members said.

“We want the school experience to change as little as possible,” said Jan Tanner, school board vice president.

The board wants input from employees, parents and district residents, Strand said.

“We’re going to have to do a lot of work in March,” he said.

Tanner said there will probably be multiple meetings and work session to go over the budget and possible cuts.

“It’s important that everything gets looked at,” Tanner said. “It really is going to be hard.”

The final budget must be approved by the school board by June 30.

All area school district officials are steeling themselves for severe financial cuts in light of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2011-2012 budget released last month, chopping K-12 education by $375 million and higher education by $36 million.

“Everyone is in this together and sharing ideas,” Tanner said.

Colorado dramatically lags other states in per pupil spending. The state ranked 42nd last year in spending per pupil, at about $8,167, according to Great Education Colorado.

Along with state cuts, districts will lose federal stimulus and education jobs money, which are set to expire.

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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