Groups deliver budget suggestions to Moffat County School Board
Suggestions build on work done during community stakeholder meetings
March 24, 2016
Craig — After four stakeholder meetings and months of discussion, community members and district officials have delivered recommendations to the school board about how to craft and reduce Moffat County School District's upcoming budget.
Three groups, each with different relationships to MCSD, presented their recommendations to the school board at a workshop Thursday. Two of those groups were tasked with offering difficult suggestions about potential reductions to next year's school district budget, and one focused on teacher work conditions and compensation.
Before the presentations, school board members discussed the budget. Some voiced concern about how the area's economic climate might affect the chances of passing a mill levy override. They also touched on the unpredictability of future state legislation as a barrier to long-term planning.
"We don't know what the Legislature's going to come up with in its infinite wisdom," said board member JoAnn Baxter.
Building on meeting’s work
Thursday's workshop came one day after the fourth community stakeholder meeting to discuss the school district's budget — a meeting at the Clarion Inn & Suites in which more than 60 people participated. At that meeting, Amber Clark, principal of Ridgeview Elementary School, explained the task at hand.
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"If we don't do anything this year," she said, "if we stay in salary freeze, if we do not do another round of iPads, if we do not fund anything for operations or anything for facilities — if we don't do anything — we are looking at a $600,000 deficit to meet our (retirement funding) needs and to meet our insurance needs."
Participants worked on suggestions to be presented to the school board Thursday. They scrutinized data to come up with recommendations of what they'd consider cutting or reducing to close the budget gap and what additions to the budget they think are needed.
Community member Neil Folks read those suggestions to the school board on Thursday. Regarding potential cuts, residents read a list of more than 40 recommendations, with the following five topping the list.
■ 30 votes to close the Moffat County High School swimming pool for an estimated savings of $78,000.
■ 22 votes to close Maybell Elementary School for an estimated $107,000 savings.
■ 17 votes to move to a four-day school week for an estimated savings of $125,000.
■ 16 votes for transportation cuts to athletics and other activities for an estimated savings of $70,000.
■ 14 votes for other transportation cuts for savings of $200,000 to $600,000.
For areas where they thought budget additions were needed, the community-based group noted facilities maintenance, technological resources, glycol for boiler systems, vehicles, iPad implementation, competitive teacher salaries and a number of other items.
The lists in their entirety are slated to be available on the district's website by late Friday.
Several administrators delivered recommendations on behalf of an administrative group, as well.
"Because of the stellar work and attention to detail of Tinneal (Gerber, executive director of finance and operations), we believe that we should pursue a mill levy override and let the public make the decision on that," said Kamisha Siminoe, principal of Sandrock Elementary School. "But there's no way that we can accommodate what we need to get to with a mill levy override."
Siminoe announced a recommendation to close the high school swimming pool for an estimated savings of $78,000 to $88,000, using a slightly different calculation from the one used by the community group; to close Maybell Elementary School to save about $107,000; and to tap into the reserve fund at an additional 2 percent to unlock $400,000.
"That will get us just shy of that $600,000," she said.
David Grabowski, principal of Craig Middle School, reported on an analysis related to closing an elementary school.
"If there is no mill levy, if we don't go for it, if we don't leave it up to the voters to decide that piece, then what's next?" he asked.
He estimated that closing an elementary school, other than Maybell, could save about $800,000 to $1.2 million.
Zack Allen, director of educator effectiveness, noted the elementary schools in the district are relatively small, with a range of 233 to 296 students — not including Maybell — for a total of 1,089.
"It became fairly apparent to the vast majority of the administrative team that an elementary school closure at some point in the future is likely," Allen said, "and it's something that we would recommend in lieu of some of the other budget cuts we would have to look at."
Members of the Interest Based Strategies team, the negotiating body for the district, also presented recommendations focusing on teachers working conditions and compensation. Among the recommendations was, as an alternative to a salary increase, a reduction of two workdays during the year while maintaining current salaries.
"The one thing that kept coming up as a viable option," added High School Principal Kelly McCormick, a member of the IBS team, "is a mill levy override so that we can pay teachers for the work they are doing instead of continuing to freeze (salaries)."
Work to be done
At the stakeholders' meeting on Wednesday, several participants said they felt as if the work was unfinished, with one noting that the recommendations felt more like a rough draft than a final product.
As school district parent Gerry Wooden left the meeting, he reflected on the difficulty of the task ahead — and the difficulty of finding funding. He also noted how tough it is to suggest potential cuts.
"I didn't feel I was qualified to do it," he said. "That was my biggest concern … (and) I just assumed these things are needed. You wouldn't have them if they weren't needed."
The next stakeholder meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 13 at Colorado Northwestern Community College.