Moffat County School District budget participants talk school priorities, ways to reach out | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County School District budget participants talk school priorities, ways to reach out

Participants contemplate ways to reach larger community — including those who speak Spanish

Michael Neary

Sandra Hershiser, who works as an interpreter for Moffat County School District, concentrates during Wednesday night’s meeting at the Clarion Inn & Suites about the coming school district budget.

After two meetings featuring extensive presentations about the Moffat County School District, a third gathering designed by district officials to garner community feedback about the budget took a different form. Meeting Wednesday night at the Clarion Inn & Suites, about 70 participants pored over programs and features of the school district, choosing the things they might be willing to cut, along with the items they wouldn't want to see touched.

"I think this is the meeting that a lot of people in the community have been wanting," said Doug Winters, a Moffat County parent with children in elementary and middle schools. Winters said it was important to "get down to the nuts and bolts" of the difficult work ahead.

"I think the entire community needs to be involved in this process," he added, noting the importance of coming up with a "common theme or common goal."

How to reach out

Before the participants broke up into groups, several people noted the difficulty of reaching all members of the community — and some noted the particular challenge of reaching the Spanish-speaking part of the community.

Sandra Hershiser, who works as an interpreter for the district, said there's a sizable part of the community that wants to give feedback but doesn't see a way to do it.

"I think they want to (give) their input, but they don't know how," she said in an interview, speaking of the Spanish-speaking population. "I think they're really shy to participate."

Recommended Stories For You

Hershiser, a native Spanish-speaker from Colombia, noted some steps she said people who aren't fluent in English could take.

"If I were a parent who didn't speak (very much) English, I would just go to the school and I would ask for help," she said, noting that school staff members could set up a meeting with the parent that she could help to translate.

But she acknowledged the difficulty of taking such a step, or of entering a large meeting of English speakers. She also said the presence of more interpreters would help.

Superintendent Brent Curtice said the district taps the services of several interpreters, but he added: "We're always looking for more." He said an effective interpreter can speak both Spanish and English — and can also reach out easily to other people.

Listing priorities

For much of Wednesday's meeting, participants scrutinized a handout with school-related areas from athletics to transportation that they were asked to prioritize. Amber Clark, principal of Ridgeview Elementary School, asked groups to list the seven areas from the sheet they value the most, as well as "the bottom seven things that we need to look at to close that gap between what money we bring in and our expenditures." She asked participants to keep student achievement in mind as they made their selections.

The list included about 30 items, with such things as class size, athletics, music, art, technology and a myriad of other areas. Groups didn't yet share their preferences in the larger meeting — that sort of sharing will come at a later meeting — but they did create posters with preferences that they hung from the walls.

Clark noted the way this meeting differed from the first two as she walked around the room fielding questions from people as they worked.

"We structured the first two (meetings) to get people information so they could do the work," Clark said. "And now we've got to get down to the nitty gritty."

After the participants worked intently on the lists, facilitator Russell George acknowledged the difficulty of the task.

"This exercise tonight was not easy," said George, president of Colorado Northwestern Community College.

More financial figures

Toward the end of the meeting, Tinneal Gerber, the district's executive director of finance and operations, noted some recent budget numbers. She said her presentation was in response to questions about why the district has increased its spending over the last several years.

Drawing from a chart, Gerber said the district's current budget shows a revenue increase of $920,841 over revenue from the 2012-2013 school year. During that same span of time, though, expenditures increased by $1,447,925.

Gerber outlined a number of expenses over that period, including a $1,121,768 increase in benefit costs.

Gerber also passed out a sheet outlining spending reductions over the last 10 years totaling $6,196,434.

Gerber sought to answer another question she said the district received — one regarding a possible mill levy. She said the district's amount of "additional override revenue available" is about $1.9 million. A mill levy to generate that amount, she said, would cost a taxpayer with a house value of $150,000 an additional $50.28 per year. A taxpayer with $150,000 worth of business or agricultural property would pay an additional $183.18 per year, she said.

Gerber said people in the community have also asked about other types of levies, and so she briefly described a transportation mill levy, a special building and technology fund, a levy related to kindergarten funding and a bond levy based on capital projects.

At the previous meeting, Gerber said the district faces a budget challenge of about $2.36 million for the coming year.

The next community budget meeting is slated for 6 p.m. on March 23, once again at the Clarion Inn & Suites.