The Bayfield School District expects to cut the equivalent of at least 10 full-time positions in response to a $1 million budget shortfall.
The school district’s finances took a hit in 2020 after statewide budget cuts prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. The district drew from its reserves to address the shortfall in 2020, but district leaders decided against relying on reserves for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
“We knew we were going to have to make some cuts because we could no longer continue to deficit-spend at almost a million dollars,” said Kevin Aten, Bayfield superintendent.
Laid-off employees will complete their current contract but will not have that contract renewed for the 2021-22 academic year, Aten said.
The layoffs will be organizationwide, including maintenance employees, paraprofessionals and some teachers. Several people have already been notified, but the district has not made the final decision about all potential layoffs.
“This depends on the state of Colorado,” said Mike Foutz, school board president. “They’ve got to hit their timeline of giving us the budget update sometime in March. That would probably finalize things.”
Bayfield personnel cuts were calculated assuming there will be no change in the state budget, Aten said. The district will adjust its plans if necessary depending on an updated state budget projection expected to arrive mid-March.
“Right now, we’re operating in a situation where, if funding is flat, we can balance our budget through cuts and moderate use of reserves,” Aten said.
The district anticipates ending this fiscal year with about $5 million to $5.2 million in its reserves. It needs to keep about $4 million at minimum in its reserves, particularly to handle fluctuations in the amount of tax-based income received by the district during the year.
The district is not imposing a wage freeze in the next fiscal year, so step raises and percentage raises will still be possible, Aten said.
“Why are we eliminating positions in the school district and not putting in a wage freeze?” said Matthew Turner, a Bayfield community member, during a school board meeting Feb. 23.
He expressed concern that the first layoff was the bus mechanic, which he said would have implications for bus inspections and maintenance. Turner also called on Aten to resign during the meeting.
The budget committee aimed to “take care of the people you have,” Aten said, even if it meant cutting more positions.
“Obviously, if we trim some positions, people are going to be working even harder,” Aten said. “For them to actually take home less money was not going to feel good.”
The district also cut $100,000 from curriculum expenses and $50,000 in program expenses.
About 80% to 85% of the district’s costs are salaries, Foutz said.
“When we’re looking at trying to fix a million dollar budget problem, we’ll hit those other (expense) areas from the extent that we can,” he said. “But you can’t get it all from there.”
Turner also said the district should draw more revenue from the old middle school building south of downtown by charging rent to organizations using the space.
The building is home to organizations and nonprofits, including Pueblo Community College, The Community Treehouse and Pediatric Partners of the Southwest. The nonprofit Pine River Shares already pays rent.
“Those aren’t going to solve our million dollar budget crisis,” Aten said. “We feel really strongly all those organizations are doing something to build community in the town of Bayfield.”