Sunset Elementary School librarian Linda Knoche reads to a first-grade class Thursday afternoon. Facing a possible 4 to 8 percent cut in funding, district superintendent Joe Petrone said the district’s goal is to keep the budget cuts as far from the classroom as possible.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Sunset Elementary School librarian Linda Knoche reads to a first-grade class Thursday afternoon. Facing a possible 4 to 8 percent cut in funding, district superintendent Joe Petrone said the district’s goal is to keep the budget cuts as far from the classroom as possible.

Moffat County schools may see 4 to 8 percent of funding cut in 2010

With an already tight budget, Moffat County School District administrators and School Board members were informed by the state to ready themselves for the possibility of a 4 to 8 percent cut, or up to $1.2 million, from the district’s budget.

Coupled with a rescission of $300,000 from the budget in January, the district is looking at $1.5 million in potential cuts.

“We’re already running pretty lean as a district,” Superintendent Joe Petrone said. “But there’s always room too look at it more. While the percentages are still unknown — we really don’t know whether (the state) will cut 4 percent or even 10 percent — this is the stark reality that we’re faced with.”

In a recent legislative update, the Colorado Association of Schools Boards warned administrators that uncertain times were coming.

The Colorado Department of Education was instructed to begin building a budget with a 4 to 8 percent drop in funding, and that message was passed along to school districts last month.

School districts around the state already are facing the possible rescission of $112 million at the beginning of 2010.

The money originally was given to the schools to use, but the state warned there was the possibility of rescinding it.

Now, the CASB said there is little doubt that money will be taken away.

The rescission amounts to about $300,000 for Moffat County. The district assumed this money would be taken away and did not incorporate it in the current budget.

Mark Rydberg, district finance director, said the feeling among administrators and board members across the state is that the January rescission will not be the end.

“The question is, do we get out of here with on that taken away from us,” he said. “The best scenario that could happen is that $300,000 is all that they take.”

Rydberg said the looming possibility of a $1.2 million cut, the 8 percent possible cut from next year’s budget, means the district has begun to take action in developing a process to look for cost savings.

“We’re going to start by establishing a process to look at what we’re spending money on,” he said. “We’ll develop a list of potential ways of saving costs.”

Eighty-percent of the district’s $20 million budget is spent on personnel costs, from teachers and staff to administrators.

Kindergarten through 12th grade education in Colorado is one of the lowest funded in the country. Moffat County is in the bottom 10 percent of per-pupil funding.

Rydberg said if the cuts reach the 8 percent mark, per-pupil funding would be reduced to a figure as low as that from 2007.

Still, Petrone said the district’s goal is to preserve education and achievement.

“We talked a lot about our mission and vision,” Petrone said. “And we have to preserve teaching and learning. Everything will be judged against that core and it will be very difficult.”

When it comes to increasing revenue, the district has no control over how much it receives from the state. It has limited opportunities to make more money, such as fees for books, lab equipment and sports participation.

However, Rydberg said those amounts are relatively too small to make much of a difference in the possible $1.2 million disparity from the potential 4 to 8 percent state budget cuts.

The funding cuts may not affect Moffat County for six months or more, but the state has been sure to warn administrators at every opportunity to begin to prepare for the possibility of cuts.

Future economic forecasts in December and March will answer more questions as the 2010-11 budget season looms closer, the CASB update said.

“Whatever happens, we’ll still have at least 90 percent of the budget intact,” Petrone said. “We still have children showing up every day to school. Our passion and enthusiasm for teaching has to be preserved at the highest level.”

Still, he said a tight budget could mean stressful times for staff members and emotional decisions.

He said each decision that has to be made is attached to a person in the district.

“In a community like this, where it’s a small town and we have about 350 working for us, that’s a large chunk of people,” he said.

He said the budget issues are just one of a number of things to do, and No. 1 on the list is to continue to adhere to the mission and vision of the school.

“We have almost no control over what happens (with the budget),” he said. “It’s a recession, but we still have to teach. We have to do it with less, and we have to smile just as much.”

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