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School board approves budget, weapons policy

Faced with a $1.3 million cut in state funding this year, the Archuleta School District 50 Joint board voted Tuesday to accept a budget that will amount to a 12-percent cut in expenditures for the 2010-2011 school year.

“How much should I say, if someone asks me in the coffee shop, that we’re cutting?” asked board director Joanne Irons.

“If you look at expenditures from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011, it comes out to twelve percent,” replied district Finance Director Janell Wood.

The district has been navigating the prospect of meager funding since last fall, when the state announced it would impose severe cuts to K-12 education due to statutory requirements to balance the state’s budget.

By January, the district was looking at all options as a means to handle its fiscal crisis. Bringing ideas such as going to a four-day school week and closing the intermediate school building, the district appealed to Archuleta County residents to help them decide where to make the cuts.

In the end, the district decided to cut staff through attrition (i.e. not replacing retiring or resigning teachers), imposing mandatory furlough days on staff and merging the intermediate school and junior high school — among other cuts.

Responding to popular opinion, the district decided not to institute the four-day school week and will keep fifth- and sixth-graders housed in the intermediate school building. However, facing the potential for an additional $1 million cut in state funding for the 2011-2012 school year, the district has not rejected those measures.

It was with budget cuts in mind that the board reluctantly passed a policy that mandates expulsion for a student who brings a dangerous weapon to school (“dangerous” defining a knife with a 5-inch fixed blade or 5.5-inch retractable or locking blade).

The federally-mandated policy (tied to federal funding) stipulates automatic expulsion of a student who brings a weapon to school, along with requiring the notification of law enforcement.

“My issue is with the kid with a 5-inch skinning knife under his seat and we have to call the cops,” said board director Ken Fox, adding, “We’re a rural community and at least half our kids are hunters.”

However, the board was unable to change language in the policy due to the federal mandate. Changing language in the policy would have eliminated over $500,000 in federal funding.

The best the board could do to accommodate youngsters who might inadvertently bring a hunting knife on school property was to agree that, given largely innocent circumstances, the district would hold an expulsion in abeyance and make an agreement with local law enforcement to examine calls on a case-by-case basis.

With its financial future still uncertain, the district’s board scheduled a 5 p.m. work session for Monday, June 14, in the Maintenance and Transportation building. In that meeting, the district will consider whether or not to pursue a ballot measure in November, either asking voters to increase the mill levy or increase the local sales tax rate.

Having agreed to cancel the regular July meeting, the board will need to scramble in deciding whether or not to pursue a ballot initiative: The deadline for the district to get a measure on the ballot is Sept. 3. However, the district will need to weigh the potential for success of an initiative that would ask voters to approve a tax increase during economic times that show few signs of improvement.

jim@pagosasun.com