Student exits D11 school bus

A student exits D11 school bus. Gazette file photo. Bryan Oller

Colorado Springs School District 11 has warned employees to brace for possible layoffs next school year after the loss of more than 1,000 students, the district’s largest yearly enrollment drop.

The specifics have not yet been hammered out, but a preliminary plan will be presented at the next Board of Education meeting, said Deputy Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Glenn Gustafson.

“People are being told about the possibility of eliminated positions,” he said.

However, even if there are fewer teachers, the district’s policy requires that it maintain a specified ratio of teachers to students.

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D-11 remains Colorado Springs’ largest and oldest school district, but a decrease of more than 1,000 students this school year and a projected drop of additional 700 students next academic year will take a toll on the district’s budget, Gustafson said.

“The district is 80 (percent) to 85 percent salary and benefits, and you can’t cut a significant amount out of the budget without impacting people and how much money they make,” he said.

Of this year’s $269.3 million general fund budget, nearly 85 percent, or $228.6 million, is being spent on salaries and benefits, Gustafson said.

The warning of cutbacks comes after voters in November 2017 approved a $42 million mill-levy override that enabled the district to give teachers and other staff raises aimed at attracting and retaining educators, reducing class sizes, upgrading security and addressing other needs.

Joe Schott, president of the district’s collective-bargaining union, the Colorado Springs Education Association, said an attempt will be made to “hurt people the least.”

“There’s no big monster wipeout kind of thing coming,” he said.

Historically, Schott said, the district has reduced the teaching workforce with retirements first, then probationary teachers and, lastly, not renewing one-year contracts.

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“While this is a real human business and there are real people behind these numbers, and it can be devastating to families, the attempt is normally made to identify the situations that have the least impact on established personnel,” he said.

The reductions are expected to be widespread. An employee who asked not to be identified said 40 library technology technicians could be let go.

According to official enrollment numbers from the Colorado Department of Education, D-11 was down 1,032 students during the annual October count in 2018 over October 2017.

That puts D-11 enrollment at 26,395 this school year, with Academy School District 20, the region’s second-largest district, just 217 students behind.

District officials in recent years have cited a combination of an aging population, fewer babies being born, more charter schools opening, more educational choices for students and little to no home construction within its central Colorado Springs boundaries as reasons for the trend. Enrollment in D-11 has been steadily declining for more than a decade.

This school year, 9,155 students residing in D-11 attended a school outside the geographic boundaries, versus 2,408 students who choiced into D-11 from other districts. That’s a net loss of 6,747 students, according to extrapolated data from the state Education Department.

“More and more schools have opened, and there’s just not as many kids as we’ve had in the past in this area — nationally millennials are not having as many children,” district spokeswoman Devra Ashby told The Gazette in January, when the state announced this year’s official enrollment. “It’s making it a very competitive environment.”

The more than 1,000 student decrease this year translates into more than $8 million less in revenue. Public school districts receive state funding under a formula that provides a certain amount of dollars per pupil. For D-11, that amounted to $8,011 per pupil in state funding this school year.

D-11 has 1,868 full-time-equivalent teachers, 1,343 full-time-equivalent support staff and 247 full-time-equivalent executive and professional staff.

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The next bargaining session between representatives from the union and the district is March 18, with the final meeting scheduled for May 3.

The district’s 2019-2020 budget must be presented to the board by May 31. A preliminary budget is scheduled to be introduced April 10.

“Obviously, we hope the impacts of the cuts are kept as far from the classroom as possible because that’s where the kids are, and that’s what the whole program is about,” Schott said.

“That’s not to undersell the importance of the support people who keep the whole process running.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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