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Letter: A different view of the District 38 financial problems (MAY 2008)

April 21, 2010
Letter: A different view of the District 38 financial problems (MAY 2008)
Published: 05.29.08 (as an Opinion/Editorial in the Tribune)

As taxpayers in District 38 prepare to assess the District 38 mill levy override proposal currently being prepared for consideration this November, it’s important that they have all of the relevant information needed to make an informed decision. Using audited financial information published by the Colorado Department of Education in its annual School Accountability Reports, I have compared revenues and expenditures in District 38 with those of a number of other school districts in Colorado. Here are some of the most significant results of my investigation:

From 2000 to 2006, annual revenue per student in District 38 grew by 41.5 percent (from $5,541 to $7,839). This growth was higher than growth in Cheyenne Mountain District 12 (31.7 percent), Academy District 20 (34.3 percent), Douglas County RE-1 (21.2 percent), Adams 12 Five Star (37.1 percent), Cherry Creek 5 (22.8 percent), and Boulder Valley RE-2 (38.7 percent).

During the same period, annual expenditures per student in District 38 grew by 49.1 percent (from $5,221 to $7,784). This growth was also higher than growth in Cheyenne Mountain District 12 (39.2 percent), Academy District 20 (39.2 percent), Douglas County RE-1 (27.5 percent), Adams 12 Five Star (30.5 percent), Cherry Creek 5 (18.5 percent), and Boulder Valley RE-2 (33.9 percent).

The bottom line: If the District 38 Board of Education and school district administration had limited growth in existing expenditures to 39.2 percent during the period from 2000 to 2006 and used the additional revenue available during this period to increase teacher compensation, they should have been able to:

Expand the district’s educational capabilities at a rate equal to or greater than that in comparable school districts.

Completely eliminate the gap in teacher compensation between District 38 and both Cheyenne Mountain District 12 and Academy District 20.

Spend less per student in 2006 than was actually spent, producing a larger budget surplus than actually existed in 2006.

Instead, District 38 faces a budget deficit of $1.8 million in 2008-09, an additional shortfall of $1.2 million in 2009-10, and teacher compensation levels that continue to be much lower than in comparable districts. Why?

The District 38 Administration wants you to believe that it’s due to a lack of taxpayer support. Shortly after the election last November, the Community Relations Director for District 38 claimed that “the taxpayers in the community were not willing to share the cost of growth.” Then in a Tri-Lakes Tribune article entitled “Board Looks at Budget Cuts” in May, Superintendent Blanch asserted that “without additional funding for the 2009-10 school year, District 38 will not be able to attract and retain teachers and will have to make budget changes that will likely affect the learning of students in the district.”

Now, the board of education has approved the imposition of a variety of new student fees requested by the administration to “offset budget deficits” by raising even more revenue.

The data above tells a different story. Taxpayers in District 38 have provided tremendous support – revenues in this district grew faster than in all comparable districts I looked at. Despite this significant increase in revenue, past Boards of Education and district administrations managed to increase expenditures at an even greater, clearly irresponsible, pace. Instead of using the significant amount of additional revenue available to correct the chronic problem of low teacher compensation that has existed in this district for many years, they apparently used it to create extra educational capabilities over and above those needed to keep pace with comparable school districts – extra capabilities that now seem to be viewed as an “essential” part of this district’s educational system, yet cannot be maintained without more money. Hence, budget deficits and underpaid teachers.

In 2006 and 2007, taxpayers said enough is enough and used their votes to demand fiscal discipline from the district. Did the current administration and board of education listen? Well, the new student fees imposed by the district are projected to raise $365,000 in 2008-09. This additional revenue will not be used to increase teacher compensation and help the district attract and retain teachers. Instead, it will be used to make up for past overspending. In addition, a significant percentage of the actual cuts in the 2008-09 budget come from teaching staff reductions. These savings, although coming directly out of teacher compensation, will not be used to help the district attract and retain teachers by increasing the compensation of the remaining teachers in the district. Instead, they too will be used to make up for past overspending.

These actions, along with the comments from school administrators since last November, suggest that this administration and this board of education haven’t yet taken taxpayer demands to heart.

Although the fiscal mess facing District 38 took several years to create and may not be a direct result of actions taken by the current administration and board of education, it’s incumbent upon this administration and this board to apply long-overdue fiscal discipline before asking taxpayers for more money. Here’s how:

Step 1: Use the revenue from new student fees and the savings from reductions in teaching staff to reduce the gap in teacher compensation in 2008-09.

Step 2: Balance the 2008-09 budget by making additional cuts to accommodate the reallocation of funds identified in Step 1.

Step 3: Split the difference to satisfy the $1.2 million shortfall in 2009-10. Cut $600,000 from the 2009-10 budget (without reducing teaching staff or teacher compensation) and ask taxpayers to provide $600,000 in revenue.

Step 4: Ask taxpayers to provide the additional revenue required to eliminate the teacher compensation gap after making all of the adjustments identified in the steps above.

David J. Cloud
Monument

to view article archive go to: http://coloradocommunitynewspapers.com/articles/2008/05/29/opinion/19729941.txt

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