The Meeker School District was able to breathe a sigh of relief this past week with the recent announcement that the state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee would assist the educational entity during its time of fiscal emergency.
The emergency came about in mid-January when MSD learned it would receive about $500,000 less than expected in per-pupil funding from the state. In addition to the district budgeting a deficit of more than $500,000 last summer — with the expectation of a fluctuation of funds to come — this left Meeker more than $1 million in the red for the current fiscal year, about 20 percent of its overall budget.
This led the district’s board of education to not only declare an emergency but also seek a way to fix the situation.
Board President Bill deVergie said the feedback received during a community forum held Jan. 23 helped them formulate a plan to get out of what he called a “budgetary shortfall.” Meeker reached out to state legislators, and it wasn’t long before they heard back with good news.
Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, said he was able to sit in on the Joint Budget Committee’s initial discussion on the matter last Friday. The result was pleasing to Rankin, who felt his constituents of Western Colorado deserved due consideration for their handling of what he called a “unique situation.”
“I give them (Meeker School District) a lot of credit for putting together all that they did,” Rankin said.
Rankin said he expects a bill to be introduced in the legislation soon that should restore Meeker’s per-pupil funding from the state to the rate of $7,625 per pupil originally expected rather than the $6,886 per pupil the district was told it would instead receive.
Much of Meeker’s struggle has been due to declining assessed property valuation, which fellow Colorado school districts De Beque and Pawnee also recently experienced. These two districts also are expected to receive help from the Joint Budget Committee.
“Meeker got hit by far the worst,” said Rankin, referring to a “negative factor” experienced by districts with considerable local funding and a decrease in state funds.
Even with help on the way, Meeker isn’t completely in the clear. Next year’s budget could present similar problems, deVergie said.
Members of the school district already are trying to address such concerns.
“Are there any cuts we could possibly take, what do we look at for buildings, bussing, food service, teachers, staffing?” he said.
The district also is looking into the possibility of mill levies and county funding, he added.
Just north of Meeker, Moffat County School District isn’t without its own issues. Although the budget for the 2013-14 school year is on track, the per-pupil funding issue still exists.
MCSD expects a trend of a declining student count in the district to hit them hard during 2014-15, with the five-year average likely to plunge by about 50 students.
Finance Director Tinneal Gerber said the smaller amount of students would negate a slight increase in expected per-pupil funding.
“Basically we’re going to be flat,” she said.
A budget cut of about 7 percent is expected for 2014-15, Gerber said, adding that the budget needs to be completed by this summer.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do in the next couple months,” she said.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.