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School district could face major budget cut

Archuleta School District 50 Joint could be facing a $750,000 cut in funding for its 2010-2011 budget, District Superintendent Mark DeVoti announced at Tuesday’s November board meeting.

Saying, “I just heard about this late this afternoon,” DeVoti emphasized that the funding cut was not certain, but that the district needed to be aware of it should the state move forward with the proposal.

DeVoti’s statement followed on the heels of an announcement by Gov. Bill Ritter’s office that it intended to cut $374.1 million statewide for K-12 education. While Ritter’s office said that the proposal represented a 4.56 percent cut in funding, it actually represents a 6.12 percent reduction in statewide funding.

While asking the board and administrators to be aware of the potential funding shortfall, DeVoti made it clear that the state had not sealed the deal and that the district would not know about the cut until next month, when the state budget would go to the Legislature.

Indeed, Ritter’s proposed cuts to K-12 funding could become the focus of legal wrangling as some education advocates maintain the cuts violate Amendment 23. Passed in 2000, the amendment mandates annual increases in K-12 funding to match inflation, along with a 1-percent increase on top of that.

However, Ritter’s office stated that the proposed cuts do not violate provisions of Amendment 23, since the amendment does not address total program funding, but only covers state base per-pupil funding. While the state Legislature has previously applied the amendments funding multiplier to all education spending, the governor would apply those provisions to just part of the entire spending package.

Faced with a $1.3 billion funding shortfall this year, the governor has proposed a number of spending cuts. However, since K-12 education accounts for about 44 percent of the state’s general fund expenditures, that funding took the most noticeable hit in proposed budget cuts.

In a phone interview Wednesday, DeVoti expressed some exasperation regarding the cuts. “We’d planned on, maybe $250,000 in cuts going into next year. It’s unfathomable how we can cut $750,000 from our budget.”

According to DeVoti, the district currently gets about $2.8 million from the state.

Although the district has received about $250,000 in Secure Rural Schools funding since last year, DeVoti said that money was not guaranteed and the district did not count it as general fund revenue, adding it to the district’s cash reserves instead.

In fact, given proposed budget cuts already on the district’s ledger (about $280,000 cut from staffing) and drawing Secure Rural Schools funds from reserves, DeVoti said that the district would still have to scramble to make up for just over $200,000 in funding shortfalls.

“We may be able to bridge this,” he said, “but it may be a bridge to nowhere. We may be able to bridge the cuts this year, but what happens next year when we’re down $750,000 again?”

DeVoti did say that Colorado stands a good chance at winning President Obama’s “Race to the Top” competition for an additional $5 billion in education funding. In July, the president announced the competition as an incentive for states and districts to adopt best practices and revamp programs that have shown little success. However, DeVoti stated that, while it would be nice to get a portion of that funding, it was far from guaranteed.

In the meantime, administrators, staff and district officials have been put on notice to expect the $750,000 funding cut and to begin determining where additional cuts to an already-slim budget might be made.

The district should know if it will have to make drastic cuts when the Legislature considers Ritter’s budget next month. The district would then have to integrate those deeper cuts when it enters its own budget phase in early 2010.