Community ponders ways to nourish Moffat County School District | CraigDailyPress.com

Community ponders ways to nourish Moffat County School District

Fifth stakeholder meeting channels frustrations and suggestions to aid school district

Michael Neary

Ken Wergin, standing left, and Neil Folks present the stakeholder group’s school district budget recommendations during Wednesday evening’s gathering at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

The community's fifth stakeholder meeting to discuss the Moffat Count School DistrictMoffat Count School District budget developed into a wide-ranging conversation about ways in which the school district might be funded — and about the urgent need to sustain strong programs to attract families into the district. budget developed into a wide-ranging conversation about ways in which the school district might be funded — and about the urgent need to sustain strong programs to attract families into the district.

Moffat Count School District budget developed into a wide-ranging conversation about ways in which the school district might be funded — and about the urgent need to sustain strong programs to attract families into the district.

The gathering of about 50 people, held at Colorado Northwestern Community CollegeColorado Northwestern Community College, also included recapitulation of budgetary recommendations that were crafted in previous stakeholder meetings and then , also included recapitulation of budgetary recommendations that were crafted in previous stakeholder meetings and then presented to the school board last monthpresented to the school board last month..

Colorado Northwestern Community College, also included recapitulation of budgetary recommendations that were crafted in previous stakeholder meetings and then presented to the school board last month.

Tinneal Gerber, executive director of finance and operations for the Moffat County School District, crystalized some of the financial challenges facing this school district — and others — during Wednesday's discussion.

"We're seeing … our state funding, which is 67 percent of our revenue, increasing about 1.2 percent each year," Gerber said. "If we look at just the medical costs — the medical insurance for our employees — that's increasing about 6 percent each year."

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Gerber also noted that about 80 percent of the district's total cost was comprised of staff.

"We are a people business," she said, noting that "step increases" for employees' salaries generally average about 3 percent each year.

"Our expenditures are growing faster than our revenue," she said.

Gerber and others at the meeting noted the way state funding constrictions, including the negative factornegative factor and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, have tightened the allotment of state funding for the school district. Those stark realities led people at the meeting to consider ways in which to offset the $600,000 shortfall the district faces going into the next school year — a total that grows considerably larger when curriculum development and other factors are taken into consideration. and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, have tightened the allotment of state funding for the school district. Those stark realities led people at the meeting to consider ways in which to offset the $600,000 shortfall the district faces going into the next school year — a total that grows considerably larger when curriculum development and other factors are taken into consideration.

negative factor and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, have tightened the allotment of state funding for the school district. Those stark realities led people at the meeting to consider ways in which to offset the $600,000 shortfall the district faces going into the next school year — a total that grows considerably larger when curriculum development and other factors are taken into consideration.

As the initially quiet participants began to exchange thoughts, they contemplated ways to increase funding.

"Has anybody come up with a way to make money, instead of just cut it?" asked Rich Sadvar, of Craig, who talked about the possibility of the school district and the larger community working together on projects that could generate income.

The concept elicited a number of responses, including one from Amber Clark, principal of Ridgeview Elementary SchoolRidgeview Elementary School..

Ridgeview Elementary School.

"One of the things that's so hard in a business or in a school is that it often takes money to make money," Clark said. "You want an effective woodshop, you've got to fund an effective woodshop."

Clark then considered the sorts of things that other districts are doing to generate revenue. She cited a number of area districts, such as Steamboat Springs School District, that she said had "outside funding that the community provides."

Referring to a mill levy override, she added: "None of us like that. I'm a property owner, too, and it will make my taxes go up more than just a single-family home. But I know that if we're going to have those opportunities back for kids, if we're going to keep our technology, if we're going to not cut programs, if we're going to look at making money, it takes money to make money. It takes money to keep things here."

Clark also noted that a mill levy override would not be sufficient in itself to meet the district's financial needs.

Other community members also voiced a desire to create solutions that transcended budget cuts. Jamie Daszkiewicz, who helped compile the results of the stakeholder committee's budget recommendations, expressed some disappointment with those recommendations.

"It seemed to me that we had very narrowly … looked at cutting things," she said, noting that the "wonderful experiences and people" in the community did not show through in the recommendations.

"I wish we could figure out a way as an entire community to really come together," she added.

Chris Jones, board member for Friends of Moffat County EducationFriends of Moffat County Education, mentioned untapped opportunities for grants awarded by that nonprofit organization., mentioned untapped opportunities for grants awarded by that nonprofit organization.

Friends of Moffat County Education, mentioned untapped opportunities for grants awarded by that nonprofit organization.

"We've been active since 2012, and we've funded about $80,000 worth of projectswe’ve funded about $80,000 worth of projects,” he said. “Each year we tell the school board and administration, ‘Tell your teachers to come to us with their ideas.’ This year it got to the point where we were sitting on a pile of money because we weren’t getting any grant requests.”," he said. "Each year we tell the school board and administration, 'Tell your teachers to come to us with their ideas.' This year it got to the point where we were sitting on a pile of money because we weren't getting any grant requests."

we've funded about $80,000 worth of projects," he said. "Each year we tell the school board and administration, 'Tell your teachers to come to us with their ideas.' This year it got to the point where we were sitting on a pile of money because we weren't getting any grant requests."

Near the beginning of Wednesday's meeting, the district's administrative team and the Interest Based Strategies team reiterated recommendations to pass a mill levy override. The IBS team is the negotiating body for the district's certified staff members.

Administrative team representative Zack Allen, the district's director of educator effectiveness, also noted the possibility of closing an elementary school, perhaps some years down the road. Allen cited falling enrollment numbers, and he said the number of elementary schools in Moffat County exceeds the number in similarly sized districts in the region. The administrative team presented this possibility to the school board last monthThe administrative team presented this possibility to the school board last month..

The administrative team presented this possibility to the school board last month.

But Allen stressed that such a consideration, at this point, was still speculative.

Janell Oberlander, CNCC vice president for the Craig campus, helped to facilitate the meeting in the absence of CNCC President Russell George. George had facilitated the first four meetings but was out of town Wednesday night.

As Oberlander asked the group about the next logical step in the conversation over the budget, one suggestion that emerged was attendance at Thursday's 6 p.m. school board work session in the district’s Administration Building to discuss the budget.

"When we have a budget meeting, or when the budget is presented to the public, I'd like to see this many people or more there," said Board of Education Member Tony Peroulis, one of several school board members who attended Wednesday night's stakeholder meeting.

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.