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School district officials explain use of Title 1 funds

Provoked by public comment during a meeting earlier this summer, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners received a report Tuesday afternoon concerning how Archuleta School District 50 Joint spends Secure Rural School (Title I) funds granted to the district.

The report came on the heels of a citizen request earlier this summer, when the BoCC elected to allocate more funds to the district.

On Aug. 7, the BoCC allocated about $410,381 in Forest Payment funds according to the 2012 Federal Forest Payment and Secure Rural School and Community Self Determination Action Election (to be received in 2013), broken down into Title I, II and III funding.

Of the Title I portion, the county must give a minimum of 25 percent to the County Road and Bridge Fund and a minimum of 25 percent to the public schools in the county. The allocation of the remaining 50 percent of the funding is to be decided by a group of representatives from the three school districts in the county (the Bayfield and Ignacio school districts serve small portions of Archuleta County) and the three members of the BoCC or their designees.

Further, the county has the option of giving the road and bridge portion of the Title I funding to the schools in order to maximize the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) received by the county. Allocations of the Title I and Title III funds are subtracted on a dollar-for-dollar basis from the PILT the county receives.

Based on that information, the county elected to allocate 85 percent to Title I funds.

But an audience member at the meeting suggested that the school district provide information as to how the Title I funding has been spent — a suggestion Commissioner Clifford Lucero agreed with, prompting Tuesday’s report.

According to the report, given by district school district Finance Director Jenelle Wood (providing a district financial overview) and Superintendent Mark DeVoti (providing information more specific to Secure Rural School funding), the school district has seven funds, with the General Fund making up 73 percent of the district’s budget.

Other funds include student activity, insurance, food service, bond redemption, grant and capital reserve project funds.

Sixty percent of the General Fund, Woods said, is spent on instructional programs, with other portions going to technology support, transportation, operations and maintenance, school administration, general and bus administration, instructional staff support, and guidance and health.

The county’s election of Secure Rural School funding to the school district over the last few years came, “at a very good time,” Woods said, with declining enrollment in the district making for less funding from the state.

Woods’ preliminary enrollment numbers for the 2012-13 school year show the elementary school with increased enrollment, the middle school with a decrease, and the high school relatively unchanged compared to last year.

A chart showing five-year enrollment for the schools shows the most drastic decrease coming in the middle school, with elementary and high school numbers more steady over the five-year span.

The “funded count” for the school is different than enrollment, however, with kindergarten funded as half-time, for example. The school district’s funded count for 2011 was 1,482.3, according to the report.

Woods said more information about the school district’s finances is available on the district’s website, www.pagosa.k12.co.us, under the “Administration” tab, then under the “Fiscal Transparency” tab. It includes quarterly reports, budgets, audits, check registers, and credit and purchase card statements.

Further information on the district and others in the state, Woods said, also falls under the “Administration” tab, under “Other Helpful Links.”

“We try to be as transparent as possible with the taxpayers,” Woods said, explaining that school funding is taxpayer money.

DeVoti said the district has received Secure Rural School funding over the last four years, with funding declining for six years.

The Title I funding, DeVoti indicated, helped the district to minimize the effect of budget cuts.

To help reduce the budget, DeVoti noted the district’s early retirement and voluntary separation incentive for teachers higher on the pay scale (replacing those teachers with new teachers lower on the salary scale), with the incentive coming from Secure Rural School funding.

The Secure Rural School funding also, DeVoti explained, allowed the district to be in the 5 percent of districts keeping up with salary step and retirement increases.

Funding also allowed for the purchase of a server to support district Internet capabilities and the replacement of the roof at the elementary school (the school district’s ballot measure failed, and the school was turned down for other grant funding).

Even with those projects, DeVoti said there is still over $200,000 remaining from the Title I funds.

In later discussion, DeVoti noted that the county’s figuring out how to maximize the Forest Payment funds for both the school district and county has served as an example in the state and is, “unmandated funding,” versus the, “normal unfunded mandate.”

randi@pagosasun.com

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