With major budget cuts looming for next year, Jeffco Schools is asking for community input through the Community Budget Survey, available through Nov. 27.
Major budget cuts expended due to economy, enrollment
The budget reality for Jeffco does not look as bleak as it did earlier this spring, but there are still many concerns. The district initially anticipated cuts of more than $70 million in May, but those were avoided largely thanks to CARES Act funding.
Jeffco Schools received more than $40 million in one-time funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund and a second type of CARES Act funding known as ESSER. Jeffco has used those dollars to offset personal protective equipment (PPE) costs and other expenses.
State funding cuts for 2020-21 also were less than originally anticipated.
However, reductions will likely be unavoidable in 2021-22. Colorado’s September financial forecast suggested the state may face a possible $1.6 billion shortfall that will impact education funding next year.
In addition, Colorado has not approved additional CARES Act funding for school districts, which could mean deeper budget cuts.
Student enrollment may also have a negative impact on future funding. Before the pandemic, Jeffco was preparing for a loss of about 350 students based on demographic trends. Nicole Stewart, interim chief financial officer, said that the district now estimates a much larger enrollment drop estimated to be anywhere between 3,500 to 4,000 students or more.
That enrollment drop could result in $5 to $10 million less in state funding for Jeffco Schools. At this point, these numbers are only an estimate. The district is still working with the state to reduce the financial impact.
2021-22 Community Budget Survey
To plan for additional cuts in the 2021-22 budget, Jeffco Schools wants community input through this year’s Community Budget Survey.
The survey asks community members to rate their support for funding priorities. Priorities include options like extracurricular activities, financial support for small schools, staff compensation, transportation, maintaining reserve funding and more. It then asks community members to recommend cuts — or recommend avoiding cuts — in each of these areas.
As of Nov. 20, more than 1,700 parents and family members and 1,300 Jeffco employees had filled out the survey according to a results section posted on the Ethelo survey system.
According to the survey results, top priority areas to maintain are:
- Competitive compensation for District staff (86 percent)
- Current staffing levels (75 percent)
- Instructional choices and programs (66 percent)
Recommendations to fund the budget cuts include:
- Spend down general fund reserves (72 percent)
- Decrease professional development for teachers (50 percent)
- Increase walking distance to school (55 percent)
The community budget survey will be open through Nov. 27. The results will be presented to the Board of Education in December. To access the survey, go to https://jps.social/budgetsurvey.
Budget Workgroup, SAC recommendations
The Community Budget Workgroup, composed of Jeffco staff members and community stakeholders, identified multiple recommendations regarding budget priorities for the next three years.
One recommendation is for Jeffco to spend down reserves at a rate of 4.5% for the next two school years, with 2% available for a potential spend down in 2023-2024 school year.
The group said this use of reserves will help prevent the student experience from being affected by cuts during the economic crisis.
The workgroup also recommended that cuts first be made to central office staffing and department budgets. Subsequent workgroup recommendations include the following, in order:
- Implementing three or four furlough days for employees
- Cuts to Student Based Budgeting (SBB) dollars
- Salary cuts
School Accountability Committees (SACs) also answered a questionnaire about budget priorities this fall. SAC members indicated that the least painful budget cut options would be cuts to STEM/STEAM programming, a decrease in concurrent enrollment offerings, a decrease in professional development opportunities, and a reduction in interventionists in areas like literacy and math.
SACs strongly opposed cuts to digital teacher librarians and instructional coaches. They also opposed decreasing the number of school-based administrators or classroom teachers. SACS also opposed decreasing elective options, decreasing main office support, and decreasing paraprofessional support.
The results of the SAC survey and full Community Budget Workgroup recommendations were presented to the District Accountability Committee (DAC) on Nov. 17 and can be found on the DAC website.
The Jeffco Community Budget survey is open to all members of the Jeffco community and closes on Nov. 27.