MCEA to 'Put Kids First'

$110 million in education cuts might be unavoidable

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The state Legislature potentially could cut kindergarten through 12th-grade spending by $110 million, and a statewide grass-roots effort to fight the cuts has made its way to Moffat County.

The cuts could amount to $300,000 for Moffat County School District, or 1.5 percent of the total budget, and the local teacher's union wants opposes the reduction.

The Moffat County Education Association co-presidents Michele Conroy and Craig Smith appeared before the Moffat County School Board at Thursday's meeting to ask for support for a movement called "Put Kids First," which is an attempt to lobby against the spending cuts.

"We want to ask for a partnership and support for fighting these cuts, which in all likelihood, will occur," said Conroy, who is also a second-grade teacher.

The state Legislature asked school districts across the state to set aside 1.9 percent of the 4.9 percent they usually receive, in case the state could not come up with the money.

That 1.9 percent will most likely be rescinded in January, because of the large state budget deficit, school district finance director Mark Rydberg said.

However, MCEA and the Colorado Education Association said the cuts are unconstitutional and in violation of Amendment 23.

In 2002, Amendment 23 was passed as a temporary program to increase the amount of funding for K-12 education each year.

But with a deficit at more than $1 billion, the state of Colorado has had to make funding cuts across the board, and education is no exception. The cuts would take away the increases that Amendment 23 promised.

"It's not as if the government is saying, 'K through 12 has too much money, we're going to take some away,'" Rydberg said. "Everyone is in the same boat, and cuts are being made across the board. But what MCEA is trying to hammer home is that they want the spirit of Amendment 23 to be maintained."

Conroy said compromising Amendment 23 will make education vulnerable to larger spending cuts in the future.

"The intent of voters in Amendment 23 was to supply funds to educate kids," Conroy said. "This rescission is a back-handed way of taking that money away. But we can stand up and say, 'No, do not cut public education funding. Our kids are here now, and they need their education now.'"

She said the rescission of the first 1.9 percent this January could have more detrimental effects at the beginning of the 2010 school year.

If the money is rescinded in January, per-pupil funding will decrease by about $140.

Conroy estimates per-pupil finding could decrease even more next fall.

"We could be at a starting point for per-pupil funding that is below where we started this year," she said. "So now, we as a district, right here in Craig, Colorado, can stand up and cry 'foul.' We can say that we need to be able to meet the needs of our students and employees."

Superintendent Joe Petrone responded to Conroy's speech by reiterating the important partnership between MCEA and the School Board, and that support of the "Put Kids First" effort will be no different.

"We've got to be partners," Petrone said. "And an effort like this is important. We have to hope that (the spending cuts) don't happen, but we have to plan for the eventuality that they might."

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

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