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Letter to the editor: Numbers regarding district in prior letter misleading (JUNE 2008)

April 21, 2010

Letter to the editor: Numbers regarding district in prior letter misleading

Published: 06.05.08 (as an Opinion/Editorial in the Tribune)

This is an effort to clear up misleading information being publicized regarding Lewis-Palmer School District 38 finances and budget, and to encourage residents to seek accurate representations of the financial challenges our schools are facing.     I sincerely appreciate the public concern over our finances and am confident that community members who took the time to read about the budget have the best interest of the children and our communities at heart.     I am astounded by the level of parent and public participation in education. The excellent education our children receive is the direct result of this involvement and support. However, statewide summary information has been recently used to create an impression that school district funds were somehow mismanaged in past years. I was not in the district at that time, but must come to the defense of D-38 regarding this misrepresentation.
Data from the Colorado Department of Education has been used to compare revenue and spending among various school districts. Numerous problems arise from using these high-level numbers as a one-stop means to determine how the district should operate.
Average Lewis-Palmer “per student” spending did increase at a higher rate than some other districts from 2000 to 2006. But those high-level state summary numbers include substantial amounts that are NOT consistent among all districts and are NOT operating revenue, such as:
Grants, for special needs programs and the charter school, which increased greatly (6 percent). Other districts may or may not have had similar increases.
Pupil Activity Funds, in which students increased fund-raising efforts (by 2 percent). This money is used by student organizations. Other districts may or may not have had similar increases.
Nutrition Services, with a 40 percent increase in food revenues. Other districts may or may not have had similar increases.
Capital Reserve, saving funds from the sale of vehicles and equipment, reinvesting it at a later date. For example, D-38 built a $1.7 million transportation center in 2004, which shows as an increase in per student spending. But the revenue to fund the building had been accumulated over several prior years. Other districts may have made different investments in different years.
The 1999 Mill Levy Override, mandated the district to spend $4 million on additional teachers and student programs, including gifted/talented and literacy services. This funding was phased in from 1999 to 2006, increasing revenue for specific purposes. Other districts may or may not have enacted similar increases.
While all of these items are reflected as an increase in per student spending, they include many funds over which the district has no control and in many cases did NOT increase the controllable operational budget. To use generalized, statewide numbers for comparison or planning is not a realistic way to view school district operations. Actual, detailed information is available to the public.

The expenditure for Lewis-Palmer students has produced outstanding student performance, excellent graduation rates, exceptional test scores and a school district ranked second in Colorado for student achievement (above Academy District 20, Douglas County, Cherry Creek and others).      D-38 stands in the top 1 percent of all districts in Colorado.    Property values in D-38 are far higher than our closest El Paso County neighbor.    The Lewis-Palmer community is receiving a very impressive return on its investment.
Since 2005, the district was spending operating funds in excess of revenues. That practice has ended. To eliminate the deficit, cuts of $1.4 million and increases of $300,000 in fees have already been implemented.      Current leadership is dedicated to long-term planning and a strategic vision for the future. The district welcomes the public to attend planning sessions, and to learn the facts about education funding in our community. We invite the community to examine our budget, ask questions and find out about the challenges we’re facing as a school district and a community. Better-informed voters can make better decisions for the future.

Cheryl Wangeman, D-38 chief operations officer and finance director

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