Our View: MCSD budget doesn’t add up | CraigDailyPress.com

Our View: MCSD budget doesn’t add up

Thursday night's special school board meeting was interesting, heart-wrenching and daunting.

It was interesting because the meeting opened with Brent Curtice and Tinneal Gerber outlining the school district's budget to the crowd. They essentially told the group that the budget will be flat for the 2015-16 school year and that they anticipate a nearly $1.2 million deficit for the 2016-17 year and all the years to follow.

The school board then opened it up for public comment, letting 50 people address the board for more than three hours about how the financial turmoil within the district has hurt Moffat County education. Interestingly enough, the board didn't say one word to the public about how they felt about the budget. They didn't talk about a mill levy — nothing. They just listened.

What's more interesting is the discrepancies in the district's per pupil count that Brent and Tinneal have outlined at various meetings. From information that we've gathered, they have different figures floating around that don't match. For instance, the editorial board invited Brent and Tinneal to be guest speakers at a Feb. 3 meeting. They gave each of us a copy of their budget.

In the report that we were given, the per pupil count for the 2014-15 school year was 2,017 and in a different report that we obtained, the count was 1,927.

The matter is confusing to begin with because there are several versions of the pupil count used by the state. Besides the actual number of heads in the classroom, there is the full time enrollment (FTE) count and the funded pupil count, which is the one that matters, because it actually determines how much money the district receives.

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The thing is, none of them seem to match up. Here are a few more numbers to chew on:

• 2,176: the number of students in class for the Oct. 1 head count, according to Gerber at Thursday night's meeting

• 2,027: the "Number of students in 2014-2015," according to MCSD's budget guide posted to their website

• 1,928: the October FTE count, according to Colorado Department of Education's 2014-2015 funding summary for Moffat County School District

• 2,144.5: the funded pupil count, according to the CDE funding summary

While the variations and averages used by the state can be confusing, we are alarmed to see a nearly 250-point difference in the numbers being cited for what should be a fairly simple, reliable number. As community members seek to understand the budget, this needs to be the first thing to be made crystal clear.

Additionally, their projected expenditures for the next four years remain the same with no projection for inflation. That caught us off guard.

Perhaps the most concerning and interesting figures we've dissected are the ones that relate to how much the school district would save each year if it went to a four day school week (something that Tinneal addressed at the meeting with a less than satisfactory answer).

Tinneal and Brent gave the school board a document on Jan. 22, stating that a four day school week will save the district $520,000 a year. And then, on Jan. 27 — five days later — they gave the school board's finance committee a document that said it would save the district $223,917 a year. That's almost a $300,000 difference.

Something is wrong with this picture. We want our school district to be transparent, but their figures are all over the map. Therefore, we challenge the school board to ask the district the tough questions about the discrepancies. Additionally, it's probably a good idea for the school board to bring in an independent accountant to look at the school's budget before it puts a mill levy question to the voters.

If the numbers don't add up, then why should the community trust the district to handle our hard-earned money through a mill levy?

Now let's dive into the heart-wrenching piece of Thursday night's meeting. The majority of those who spoke work for the district, and they pleaded — many cried — to the board to put a mill levy question to the voters in November. Teachers outlined all the money they spend out of their own wallets on school supplies. A student talked about how she wasn't prepared to compete on a collegiate level. They outlined the importance of good technology and teaching students with 21st century tools.

Every school district employee who spoke, including all six principals, asked the board to put a mill levy override — which is a property tax — on the November ballot.

Now, we're not against a mill levy ballot measure, but before that decision is made, the school board and the community must fully understand the budget. The district needs to explain all the discrepancies.

It's a daunting thought to know that our district might go into a $1.2 million deficit each year. If the budget is well-balanced and we still come up $1.2 million short, then, yes, we support a mill levy. But not until the budget is explained better to the public and the school board.

The future of our community and our children is at stake.

Editorial board

Renee Campbell — newspaper representative

Noelle Leavitt Riley — newspaper representative

Sheli Steele — newspaper representative

Shannon Moore — community representative

Bob Mueller — community representative

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