Moffat County School District plans effort to gather budget input
February 2, 2016
Craig — An effort to gather community-based recommendations for the coming Moffat County School District Budget is under way.
After meeting during a work session on Monday, members of the school district's Interest Based Strategies team have planned to meet with what they hope is a wide swath of community members from 6 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 17 at the Clarion Inn & Suites. It is slated to be the first of several meetings, and it's designed to help carve out recommendations for the upcoming budget.
"That will be a very important meeting because I think it will ground the community," said Amber Clark, principal of Ridgeview Elementary School. "Sometimes when you miss the informational meetings up front, the rest of the meetings don't make sense."
Interest Based Strategies is a process the district's negotiations team adopted four years ago to replace traditional bargaining, explained Moffat County Education Association members. They noted that the work of the IBS team "has changed slightly to include problem solving and … helping the district gather information about the state of the budget." Two members of the school board are on the team.
Clark said invitations are slated to go out to people interested in participating in what could be a large "stakeholder committee." At the meeting, Clark noted that all district parents, all district employees, elected officials, community business leaders and various other community members would be on the list, and she said the invitations would go out in English and in Spanish. She also emphasized that all community members are invited to participate, whether they receive a formal invitation or not.
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The challenge of reaching all community members
One challenge that's been noted by members of the community, including district staff, is how to reach parents who may be struggling economically and who could have difficulty attending meetings. Toward the end of Monday's work session, district members talked about the need to engage these families.
"How do we (include) their voice?" asked Andi Murphy, the district's English Language Learners coordinator. "That is concerning."
Participants in the work session then discussed ways to reach a fuller representation of the community, possibly by tapping social workers, religious leaders, community groups and others who may be in contact with parents unable to attend meetings.
Budget nuts and bolts
A number of district officials, including Superintendent Brent Curtice, discussed educational goals and other factors that may enter into considerations about the budget during Monday's work session. Some district staff members wondered about the best way to reach people in the community who are concerned about their schools but who may not be versed in the inside workings of public education. Board Vice President JoBeth Tupa, a member of the IBS team, broached that topic, as well.
"I've learned a lot of what you guys are saying," she said, but she noted that it's difficult "for people to wrap their heads around what's going on in public education."
Finance Director Tinneal Gerber was among the district staff members who spoke on Monday, delving into some of the nuts and bolts of budget matters.
Gerber noted that the full-time equivalency student count of district students, averaged out over last five years, stands at 1,996.3. For the current school year, the district receives $6,919 per full-time student equivalency, based on the state's School Finance Act. She said the district receives additional funding for preschool and kindergarten students, also through the School Finance Act.
The district has the option of using a one-year enrollment figure, or an average based on the last four years or on the last five years, depending on what's better for the district regarding the funding it receives, Gerber explained.
Gerber noted that key drivers of the budget gap include the declining full-time student equivalency, along with increases in retirement benefits of about $62,000, possible employee salary increases about $500,000 and health and dental benefits of about $500,000.
She said the general fund operating budget is 20,261,656 for the 2015-16 school year, and the total appropriation is $36,683,638. That second number includes funds such as food service, student activities, capital reserve and other expenses, Gerber said.
Gerber said projections indicate that student enrollment may flatten out in the coming years, after declining during the last decade or so. During that declining period, she noted, the overall district staff has shrunk by 27 percent. The number of administrators, she said, has gone from 16 in 2005 to 8 in 2014.
Board of Education to receive recommendations
At a Board of Education work session last week — before Monday's IBS work session — board members discussed how they hope to receive input from the administration on the crafting of a budget.
"I want to look at a balanced budget out in front," said Board Member Darryl Steele. "I want to see what it's going to look like in advance."
Steele said he wanted to see a proposal by May 1, about 60 days before a final budget is due.
Board President Darrell Camilletti stressed the need to look beyond the immediate budget.
"We can't look (only) to the (2016-17) budget," he said. "We've got to start looking ahead. There has been a lot of discussion of a mill levy override and a bond issue. We are going to have to take a longer view."
After the school board's work session last week, Board Secretary Charity Neal elaborated on what she hopes to discover from the administration.
"We're really saying that we want to get as close to a balanced budget as we can," she said, and then added: "But not at the expense of students."
Curtice emphasized that the administration will look hard to the public for input on the budget, and he stressed that the coming meetings to consider budgetary priorities will be open to the public.
"We believe that anybody that has come to us over the past year about the budget, good or bad, is invited," he said during the school board work session. "Anybody that has a passion about any part of the budget — we want them there at the table."