Residents within Durango School District 9-R boundaries were given a look at the difficult budgetary alternatives in this COVID-19-marred year and asked to provide feedback about what paths they would prefer to balance the books.
With sales and income tax revenues plummeting because of decreased economic activity during the COVID-19 recession, Durango’s public schools are looking at the state decreasing per pupil revenue from $8,400 for the current year to $7,166 for school year 2020-21.
That’s only one area where state funds are expected to decline.
The district also expects to lose an array of other revenue streams from the state: $550,000 it had expected in one-time rural school funding, $200,000 in elimination of delinquent fees and interest on property taxes this year, and up to $1 million because of declining enrollment.
But the biggest hit is the $7.3 million in reduced state funding the district would take if the Colorado General Assembly accepts the Joint Budget Committee’s recommendation to cut statewide general fund spending on K-12 education by $577 million.
“We really want to get as broad feedback as possible,” said 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger. For input from the public, a survey about budgetary choices will be posted on the district’s website along with video of Wednesday night’s 2020-21 Public Budget Session, which was held on Zoom and attended by 175 people.
The website survey also includes opportunities for the public to suggest their own ideas about ways to save money not included in an array of proposals presented during the meeting.
Snowberger encouraged members of the public to offer their own ideas to find savings in the budget – noting many ideas for cuts presented Wednesday night originated from suggestions made by the public in past years when the district faced similar bleak budgetary outlooks.
“I can tell you, there are no good cuts being made. All of these are challenging,” Snowberger said.
Almost 40 budget reduction options were presented to the public. They ranged in size from $2.6 million if the district suspended previously agreed upon salary increases to $28,000 by cutting printing, copying and classroom supplies from individual schools.
One tempting target is to use up the district’s $5.7 million in reserves, essentially depleting the district’s savings account.
But using the reserve fund in one year would leave the district unable to cushion losses in future years, and Snowberger noted after the Great Recession of 2008, the district still faced painful budget cuts for several years, and it took the district 10 years to return to pre-recession levels of state funding.
Dipping too deeply into reserves, Snowberger also cautioned, would lower the district’s bond rating, making it more expensive to borrow money and to pay back bonds.
Still, as members of the school board have noted, the reserve fund is established for financially difficult years caused by circumstances – like a viral pandemic – that were unforeseeable. He said some amount of dipping into reserves will likely be tapped to make up at least a portion of lost state revenue.
Some ideas presented for budgetary savings included:
Taking furlough days, saving $200,000 per day.Requiring staff to pay more for health insurance premiums, saving $220,000 a year.Requiring a 1% salary reduction for all staff, a savings of $250,000 per year.Reducing spending on travel, saving up to $306,000 per year.Merging schools to reduce administrative and building costs, which could save between $640,000 and $985,000 a year, depending on which schools are closed and merged.[email protected]