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The state legislature’s decision to increase school funding this year, along with the district’s healthy reserve means RE-1 Valley School District will be able to increase base pay for certified and classified staff next year and reinstate employees’ frozen years but it will have to use $183,000 in reserves to do it.
A preliminary snapshot of the 2023-24 budget was presented at a District Accountability Committee meeting Thursday by Interim Chief Financial Officer Deb County. She explained that over the years the state has pulled money away from school districts through the budget stabilization factor but this year the legislature has decided to reduce that factor, meaning more money is coming back to all school districts. RE-1 had about a $2 million deficit from what its actual funding should be as a result of the factor, but what’s projected for 2023-24 is a reduction of only around $300,000.
“They are trying to get us back to where we are what’s called fully funded,” County said.
RE-1’s budget for next year is based on an anticipated funded pupil count of 1,918.3, a few less than the state’s projection of 1,925.3 and down 129.2 from the 2022-23 count, as well as per pupil revenue of $10,404.35 compared to $9,359.59 in 2022-23.
Additionally, with the new Colorado Universal Preschool Program the Colorado Department of Education has said it is going to hold all districts harmless based on their current preschool funding. RE-1’s current preschool count is 125 and it is being funded currently for 63 at $9,359.59, which amounts to $589,654. However, funding could possibly increase when the program is fully rolled out.
RE-1 will receive $405,580 in rural funding as well. All together that is new revenue of $794,904.
County noted at the end of the fiscal year audit in 2022, the district carried over a fund balance of just over $2 million into the current fund balance. Before that, the district’s reserves were only sitting at a little more than $2 million and realistically the district should have enough in its reserves to cover three months of operating expenditures, which is typically a little over $1 million a month.
“One thing about our reserves right now, this is the healthiest reserve we’ve had in this district in a long time,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Martin Foster said.
County shared that as the district has been projecting and looking at what it can do now that it has a healthier reserve and additional state funding, it has found that what it can do is “pretty much what is going on in other school districts in the state, really trying to get salaries and benefits back up so that staff will stay, etc.,” she said, noting multiple districts around the state have had staff frozen.
With that in mind, the district will need to go into its reserves approximately $183,000 next year as it looks to address frozen years and increase its base pay.
“When we talk about spending more than we bring in, I don’t like that, but I do believe that the hold harmless preschool amount, there’s a strong possibility once they get this UPK thing figured out we will get additional funds because they’re saying if the kids are here 30 hours a week, which about half of ours will be, we’ll get the full $10,500 and some change (per student),” Dr. Foster said.
On the expenditures side, teacher base pay has been increased to $40,000 to be more in line with what other area districts pay for a cost of $285,000 to the district; there is an experience step at a cost of $138,000 for the district and frozen years have been reinstated at a cost of $342,000.
“There are quite a few people here that were frozen eight years; that means they’re going to get eight steps, that means they’re going to get a pretty good chunk of money. It doesn’t mean we’re going to pay them back for all of those eight years that we didn’t give them a raise, but it means that we’re going to do what we can,” Dr. Foster said, adding that those getting eight steps will still get an experience step too.
Additionally, the extra duty base pay has been increased at a cost of $21,000 to the district; an extra duty step has been added at a cost of $1,000; a first grade teacher has been added at Ayres Elementary, a cost of $41,000; there are positions for TOSA (teacher on special assignment)/district gifted talented coordinator and a data analyst, a cost of $50,000 each; and there is a $212,048 PERA/Medicare increase.
Under administrative/support staff, administrative frozen years are reinstated, a cost of $62,000; there is an administrative experience step, a cost of $22,000, classified frozen years are reinstated, a cost of $195,000; there is a classified experience step, a cost of $85,000; the classified base pay has been raised to $14.25 to stay in line with the state if it increases the minimum wage again in January, costing the district $280,000; and there is a $147,154 PERA/Medicare increase.
Under other costs, the district has included the costs for two school resources officers, $100,000, as well as $20,000 for the FASTER firearm training program at Caliche school and the cost for health insurance, $78,000, which is a 4% decrease from this year with a move to Aetna. County pointed out that in all the years she has worked at the district there has never been a decrease.
“If you really think about what’s being proposed in this budget, it’s a great package for our employees. It’s something that we needed to do here for many years and were unable to,” Dr. Foster said, adding that all of the line items in the budget that were not mentioned will remain the same; they haven’t been cut.
Committee member Chris Connor was impressed with what was put together in the budget. He pointed out that when he tried to help get a mill levy override passed by voters several years ago the biggest complaint was that the district wasn’t managing its money well. He believes the school security enhancements, the steps on teacher salaries, etc., “are positive messages that the community has not seen for a long time” and show the district is managing its money well.
Another committee member, Jared Sonnenberg, noted the district has lost teachers strictly based on salary and said, “it’s past time to take care of our teachers.”
“They need to know how much we value them because they build our community,” Ronda Monheiser agreed.
Committee members were also hopeful some of this will lead students and families to want to stay in the district and talked about some other possible ways to try to increase enrollment, including recognition of students.
Following the budget presentation, the committee agreed to make the following recommendations to the school board:
1. Honor salaries and benefits as presented in the 2023-24 general fund budget to include:
• Reinstating frozen years to each eligible employee on the appropriate salary schedule;
• Setting the base at $40,000 on the teacher salary schedule and columns to $667 and adjusting salary schedules for all other certified employees;
• Setting the base at $14.25 per hour on the classified salary schedule and adjusting salary schedules for all other classified employees;
• Awarding an experience step to each eligible employee on the appropriate salary schedule; and
• Paying the full single health, vision and life insurance premium for each eligible employee.
2. Expend the remainder of the general fund budget and other fund budgets as presented in the 2023-24 district budget as recommended by the superintendent.
The recommendations will be shared with the board at their May 1 meeting and on May 15 the board will get a preliminary budget, which they will consider adopting on June 19. Dr. Foster noted that the budget can still be amended at any time until Jan. 31, 2024.
In other business, Sonnenberg informed the committee that the district is hoping to bring the Every 15 Minutes program to Sterling High School. The program uses a mock accident to show students the potentially deadly consequences of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs and not wearing a seatbelt. The hope is to get community partners to assist with funding so that it will not cost the district anything.
Committee members were very supportive of the idea.
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