Colorado Springs School District 11 board work session
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D-11 Superintendent Michael Thomas, left, and board member Theresa Null listen to Deputy Superintendent Glenn Gustafson's presentation Thursday.

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At least 111 positions, including teachers and administrators, could be eliminated next school year as a consequence of this year’s large enrollment decline, the seven-member Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education was told Thursday.

A preliminary 2019-20 budget for the Pikes Peak region’s largest public school district proposes eliminating 35 elementary school teachers, 20 high school teachers, nine middle school teachers, six administrators, three assistant principals and other staff.

Most, but not all, of the teaching positions will be cut through attrition, Deputy Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Glenn Gustafson said during his preliminary budget presentation to the board at the work session.

"Everybody is going to be impacted by this; there are no sacred cows," said Superintendent Michael Thomas.

Also on the table is closing two alternative programs at the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus — Springs Community Night School and Tesla Middle School, restructuring school library media support, increasing busing radiuses and taking other measures to trim at least $9 million and as much as $11 million from the budget that takes effect July 1.

That equates to 3 percent to 4 percent of the district’s general operating budget, which is normally around $220 million, Gustafson said.

“You’re going to see some depressing stuff, some challenges for the district, but I’d like you to look at it as how do we use this to realign the resources to drive the direction for the future,” he said.

No decisions have been set in stone at this point, said Thomas, who took over leadership of the district on July 1. Board members will analyze, discuss and hash out a new budget through May.

“This is our first conversation with the board to understand the priorities and will of the board, and also hear from leadership as well as our staff representatives to formulate what will become our proposed budget,” Thomas said.

While rumors have been swirling for weeks, as some employees received letters from administrators about impending layoffs and program reductions, Thursday was the first time specifics were made public.

“We’re not choosing between something that’s good and something that’s bad, we’re choosing between something that’s good and something that’s good,” Thomas told board members. “We just cannot do all of the things we want to do.”

Enrollment in D-11 has been declining for years, but this year’s drop of 1,032 students, according to the Colorado Department of Education official October headcount, was the largest ever. Typical losses in recent years have been 300 to 400 students, Gustafson said.

A loss of 723 students is projected for next school year, he said.

Officials have cited lower birth rates, aging demographics, little to no new home building in its boundaries and state-authorized charter schools in D-11 boundaries enrolling more than 4,000 students as reasons for the trend.

The amount of teachers has not decreased proportionately to match enrollment decreases, Gustafson said, leading to smaller-than-average class sizes. 

Board member Mary Coleman said she wants the district to be sensitive to the fact that some people will lose their jobs, which could be a hardship.

Thomas said district leaders are aware that "people are behind these conversations, and we need to keep integrity high and support staff through these challenging times."

While D-11 voters approved a $42 million mill levy override in November 2017, that money cannot be used to balance the budget; it’s earmarked for specific uses, such as capital projects, increasing district security measures and improving technology, officials said.

D-11 is creating a new strategic plan, which should be finalized in May. Proposed budget cuts, as well as proposed program additions totaling $1.5 million, were based on investing in programs that will increase enrollment and improve student achievement, according to the presentation.

Gustafson said he sees “a great path forward” as the district creates a new direction and already has seen academic improvements this year, reducing the number of schools on the two lowest rungs of achievement from 14 to three.

“We’ve got to make some investments to turn the path to be a viable district, the best Colorado Springs district,” he said.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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