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As cuts continue in D-11, school closures could return

March 10, 2011

School closures and realignments may not be over in Colorado Springs School District 11, but there won’t be any for this year.

Despite having to make $13 million in cuts to the 2011-12 budget, officials promised not to close schools.

“We are not taking a recommendation to the board to next year close a school,” said Superintendent Nicholas Gledich Thursday, laying to rest speculation about closures this year.

However, there could be some reconfiguation of west side schools and others in 2012-2013 if the school finance situation remains dire and another $8 million in cuts are needed then, D-11 Finance Director Glenn Gustafson said.

He and the other D-11 top brass, in the first of several traveling budget shows, gave those gathered at Coronado High School Thursday a sobering assessment, tinged with some hope that 2013 will be the last year of big cuts. Nevertheless, Gustafson told the crowd of about 40 that for now, “It’s really, really bad.”

Previous cuts and closures, though, have helped.

“We have become more efficient,” Gustafson said. But this time the district is “cutting bone. I worry this will affect the classroom.”

Here are some possible scenarios for future reconfiguratons, which have not been proposed or approved:

• West Middle School could close, and those students would go to Homes Middle School.   

• West Middle School could close and West Elementary School would absorb the 6th graders, and Holmes, the 7th and 8th grades.

• Eight schools would become K-6, and Holmes would become a 7-8 center.

• There could be some K-2, and 3-5 centers throughout the district.

There could be annual savings of at least $100,000 using such configurations.

However, Gledich cautioned these ideas are in the early “conversation stage,” and not something that would happen this year.

D-11 went through a painful year of closures and realignments due to declining enrollment and money woes. West Middle School and West Community Center shared space until two years ago, when the center  moved elsewhere, and West Elementary School was added. At that time, D-11 considered making the complex a K-8 school, but the  community objected.

D-11 isn’t alone in its  economic misery. The governor’s budget for 2011-2012 chops K-12 education by $375 million, as federal fudning dries up  and property taxes decrease.

At the same time, costs are up. Gasoline for buses and fleets will be at least $100,000 more in D-11 next year, pension costs are going up, and utility costs are expected to rise over the next several years.

Gustafson noted that D-11 has more teachers now than it did 10 years ago, when enrollment was 10 percent higher. With 85 percent of the budget going for staffing, that is an area that must go under the accountant’s microscope.

“We’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting the other 15 percent, and now we have to talk about that 85 percent,” Gustafson said.

One idea, increasing class sizes by one student, could eliminate roughly 85 positions and save $4 million to $5 million.  

“You can only do so much with each dollar,” Gledich said this week. “It’s very painful when it is individual people and their lives.”

Two  furlough days would save $2 million, and the district is considering doing that in conjunction with  Thanksgiving break, the week that has the highest number of absences for students and staff.

However, furlough days would call for a review of labor laws and class time requirements for students.

Gledich noted that other possibilities are streamlining curriculum and narrowing the education focus. He likened the budget cut process to making a pie.

“Last year we cut away the excess dough, now we are crimping the edges and hoping it doesn’t tear the center–the students.”

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