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District 11 to propose $343 million schools budget

June 10, 2013 Updated: June 10, 2013 at 6:50 pm

A slightly better economic outlook and a massive reorganization in Colorado Springs School District 11 have shaped the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

The most significant change in the budget comes from closing or remodeling some schools in the face of declining enrollment, said Glenn Gustafson, deputy superintendent and chief financial officer.

"These repurposings shifted staff and programs and reduced, in some cases, administration in order to more effectively utilize our resources," he said.

The D-11 board of education will hold a public hearing on the recommended budget during its regular board meeting on Wednesday. The public comment period is expected to begin around 7 p.m. at the district administration building, 1115 N. El Paso St.

The board also will discuss the budget but not vote on whether to adopt it until its June 19 meeting. Under state law, school districts must submit a budget for consideration by July 1.

The $343 million budget reflects last month's closure of three schools, including Wasson High, which is being remodeled into an alternative education center for the district. The other two schools could be sold, Gustafson said.

The reorganization is part of a new "optimization of utilization" plan - a reaction to declining enrollment and decreased funding that focuses on consolidating schools and programs and creating larger elementary schools for more effective use of buildings.

Since 2009, D-11 has closed 12 schools in its restructuring process. Two, Irving Education Center and the former Jefferson Elementary School, have sold for just over $7.2 million.

There will be 63 fewer jobs in the district next school year, due to the changing environment. Of those positions, 11.6 positions could be identified as "displaced teachers," and the district would be responsible for paying full compensation for one school year. The payout would amount to $749,000, according to the budget proposal.

Among the new additions in the budget is $1 million to staff the new Early College High School, one of eight programs that will be housed at the repurposed Wasson High. That equates to 16 teachers and staff, Gustafson said.

The consolidation of programs is expected to reduce costs in building operations, overhead, maintenance and staff by a total of $2.3 million annually, he said.

Although public schools are still dealing with effects of the recession, districts will see a small amount of new money for next school year. This is the first year since 2009 that the state approved an overall increase in School Finance Act revenues.

While the state will kick in more money for public education, D-11 expects local property tax revenue to decrease by about $764,000, due to decreased valuations.

In all, D-11's Public School Finance Act funding should increase by about 2.2 percent, or nearly $4 million, Gustafson said.

The district announced last month it would, for the first time in four years, increase salaries this school year, for a total wages and benefits compensation package of $9.3 million. It also will reinstate one of two mandatory furlough days, at a cost of $800,000.

Another positive step, Gustafson said, is the possible expansion of capital reserve projects, which would add air conditioning to two more elementary schools, Monroe and Taylor, at a combined cost of just over $1 million.

"Hot schools have been a major issue the last few years. Kids are sweating in the fall and spring, and we're slowly converting every school to air conditioning without impacting the taxpayers," he said.

Proceeds from the sale of Irving and Jefferson have enabled the expansion of capital reserve funds, Gustafson added.

The district projects 358 fewer students in October compared with last fall's enrollment, for an estimated 27,016 students. In 2001-2002, the district had 31,200 students.

Three new charter school approvals have contributed to the expected drop in the fall, according to the budget proposal. The district plans to restore $300,000 to advertising and marketing efforts to attract more students and "remain competitive with other local choice education options," according to district spokeswoman Devra Ashby. But time will tell: Although the October 2012 pupil count was expected to be 36.5 students more than in October 2011, it ended up being 438 less than projected.

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