School district dips into budget reserves to cover loss of revenue
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Without more revenue,... mill levy override encouraged next year

The Gunnison Watershed School board finalized a budget for the 2013-14 school year Monday, June 10, making it through another year of slim state funding without dramatic changes in the classroom or cuts in staffing. But that consistency is costing the district next year, with a now-final plan to take $500,000 from a reserve fund.


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District business manager Stephanie Juneau, who has led the administration through increasingly austere school years since state funding started to drop off in 2009, told the board she made only a few changes in the final draft of the budget, accounting for a slight increase in elementary school meal prices and some additional revenue from a once-forsaken federal program.
In the last five years, the district’s funding from the state has been cut by more than $2.1 million, reducing the amount of money available per student from $7,700 to less than $6,500. Although the state’s share of funding is set to increase $165 per student next year, that level of funding still puts Colorado near the bottom of the country—47 out of 50—of a list ranking state funding nationally for schools.
But every year, the district’s administrators make it work. This year they took a close look at transportation and the cost of activities. Next year the administrators will do the same and will continue asking every department to keep discretionary spending to a minimum.
They will also see the largest student enrollment next year the district has ever seen, which will be a boon, with 1,745 funded students. Next year the district will also take steps to improve the safety of the school working environment just to save 5 percent, or about $7,500, on their worker’s compensation insurance premiums.
“The public should know that no rock has been left unturned in the search for ways to save the school district money,” school board treasurer Bill Powell said.
More steps were taken to avert ever-increasing insurance premiums in the future, by taking on a larger role, and greater liability, in the management of the district health insurance plan. Still, other costs are more difficult to get in front of.
Every year, the school district finds itself having to put money into the food service fund to cover the cost of school lunches, many of which are homemade at Crested Butte Community School. This year that subsidy will be more than $150,000. To offset that cost, the school board agreed to increase the cost of elementary school lunches next year $.50, to make all student lunches $3, and add $.25 to the cost of adult lunches. That could save the district almost $20,000.
But increasing personnel and other costs and dwindling revenue resulting from a drop in assessed property value are continuing to hurt the district’s finances. Despite its best efforts, the district found its expenditures next year outpacing revenues by more than $366,000, owing in part to the loss of federal money paid to compensate for untaxable federal lands in the county and personnel costs that now total 84 percent of general fund expenditures.
As a result, the district opted to draw down its General Fund balance of $2.9 million by $500,000 as a one-time fix to the budget shortfall.
Many on the school board and ADCO have high hopes for a bill being proposed by state Sen. Mike Johnston, The Future School Finance Act, that would, according to Juneau, steer an additional $1.1 million toward the local district through a recalculation of the state’s School Finance Formula. But that would require the state to get more than $1 billion extra out of Coloradoans.
In the final draft of the budget, Juneau warns, “If the Future School Finance Act fails in the upcoming election, [the Administrative Council] strongly encourages the Board of Education to pursue an operating mill levy override in the November 2014 election.”