Jeffco Schools will host four virtual budget forums for community feedback on approximately $50 million in budget cuts for the 2021-22 school year. The budget forums will take place on the following dates:
- Feb. 17 from 5 – 6 pm
- Feb. 20 from 9 – 10 am
- Feb. 23 from 6 – 7 pm
- Feb. 26 from 10 – 11 am
“We have a $45 to $50 million hole if not more,” said Jeffco School Board President Susan Harmon during the board’s Feb. 4 meeting. I want to be really transparent about the size of the hole at the budget forums, she emphasized.
School board members told staff they wanted to ask participants what cuts they would make to balance the budget. Making cuts is hard, said board member Brad Rupert, adding that he wanted to learn where people will make trade-offs.
Board members Harmon and Stephanie Schooley will attend the Feb. 17 forum, and Rupert and Rick Rush will attend the Feb. 20 forum. Rupert and Schooley will attend the Feb. 23 forum, and Susan Miller and Rush will attend the Feb. 26 forum.
$50 million or more in cuts
Current projections suggest that the district will need to cut between $48 and $54 million from the 2021-22 budget, said Nicole Stewart, interim chief financial officer. Stewart presented the projections and staff recommendations to the board on Feb. 4.
The exact number is likely somewhere between $53 and $57 million, depending whether students who left during the pandemic return to Jeffco for the 2021-22 year. Stewart said the district estimates that one-third of those who did not enroll will return.
Stewart added that there was a lot of uncertainty overall, not only about enrollment numbers but also about state revenue projections. The state’s December forecast showed higher revenue projections than earlier anticipated.
In addition, although there was a property tax increase in Jeffco, those dollars do not necessarily generate more school funding for Jeffco, Stewart said. Instead, the state decreases the amount of funding it gives to Jeffco Schools and diverts state dollars elsewhere, Stewart explained.
Identified 2021-22 budget cuts
District staff identified $11.33 million in cuts before the meeting. Those include:
- $1.25 million from operations, including cuts of 19 full time equivalent positions (FTE, comprised of either full-time positions or a comparable number of part-time positions. For example, cutting two half-time positions would equal cutting one FTE).
- $580,000 from technology
- $5.1 million from legal, finance, and HR
- $1.83 million from educational research and design, including cuts of 19.62 FTE positions
- $100,000 from educational technology, including the reduction of one FTE position that supports school-based professional learning on Ed Tech
- $340,000 reduction in early learning, student data privacy, curriculum and instruction, including a reduction of two FTE positions
- $1.1 from school leadership, including three FTE positions
- $1 million by cutting the Jeffco Innovation Fund
Staff also asked board members about an additional $2.83 million in cuts. Those cuts included:
- $120,000 from transportation by waiting on a planned bus purchase
- $150,000 from custodial services, including five FTE based on average vacancy trends
- $120,000 to cut MAP testing currently offered to high school sophomores
- $240,000 in career and technical education
- $2.2 million in school improvement funds that had been earmarked for struggling schools to use for purchasing additional resources, teachers and specialists, and other supports.
Board members agreed with the cuts from transportation and custodial services. However, they said they did not want to cut any MAP testing or from career and technical education.
The $2.2 million cut in school improvement funds remains on the table. This is the one that “gives me the most heartburn,” Rupert said.
Schooley agreed with Rupert and said she’d prefer to leave that program.
Miller asked staff to find out what gains those schools had made with those dollars so the board could see the program’s return on investment before making a decision.
Harmon said the money for the school improvement fund had been allocated in a year when the district had extra dollars and they wanted to give extra support to struggling schools. However, given the budget reality, those dollars may not have as great as an impact, she said.
Reserves and other budget options
In addition, staff recommended pulling $30 million from reserves to help cover the funding gap for the 2021-22 school year, Stewart said. She also cautioned board members that the district assumes this is year one of at least two years of budget cuts.
Stewart also laid out other options school board members could consider for the 2021-22 year, as well as options that might be considered for ongoing cuts in 2022-23 or later years. Among them:
- Temporarily cut $2 million from the annual capital transfer.
- Temporarily cut $1 million from technology, largely by spending down IT reserves.
- Cut $3 million by instituting up to three furlough days for all staff, as happened during the last recession.
- Reduce the money allotted to student based budgeting by $50 per pupil, totaling $3.4 million in cuts. This move would increase class sizes, reduce elective options for students in grades 6-12, and cut one teacher and one classified position from every school, on average.
Stewart said she doesn’t recommend pulling from operations or tech because it will affect future operations if those dollars can’t be reinstated later.
School board feedback
Harmon said she was strongly opposed to cutting capital transfer.
“We were in such a bad, bad place with our facilities,” Harmon said. “Years and years ago, we did this and never recovered. We then added to it a few years ago in an attempt to sustain our facilities.”
She added that because Jeffco is making a huge investment in facilities with the current bond program, she wants to ensure that cuts to capital transfer wouldn’t be to the detriment of the community’s investment.
Miller said she would prefer to pause the capital transfer for 2021-22 and use less than $30 million from reserves. She also said she did not support furlough days.
Rush said he was ok with temporary and partial reduction to capital transfer. He also said he wanted to fully consider increasing class size and having fewer electives as an option for balancing the budget.
Rush said he was very uncomfortable with the idea of pulling any more than $30 million from reserves, especially with cuts likely in future years.
Schooley said she was comfortable with temporary holds to capital transfer and technology, but not comfortable cutting student based budgeting dollars.
Rupert said budgeting should assume a three-year period of difficulty, and he was not comfortable using more than $30 million in reserves this year.
Potential 2022-23 cuts
Stewart also mentioned cuts that might be on the table for the 2022-23 school year.
Cuts in 2022-23 could include changes to transportation services, including evaluation of routes, outsourcing, and changing start times.
Other cuts could include school closures and consolidations, and the evaluation of a four-day school week.
2021-22 budget increase requests
Board members also considered three additions to the budget: the purchase of a new literacy program, money to establish a pilot special education program for middle schoolers, and a substitute teacher pay increase.
Literacy program purchase
Jeffco is considering purchasing a new literacy resource program to ensure that all schools are compliant with the 2012 Colorado READ Act. According to a Spring 2019 amendment to the READ Act, all districts must use reading programs that are “scientifically based and evidence-based,” or risk losing per-pupil intervention funds.
The Colorado Department of Education released a list of approved reading programs ten months ago, in April 2020.
A literacy program would cost between $8 to $16 million in one-time costs, plus an additional $5 to $8 million in ongoing costs, said Matt Flores, Jeffco chief academic officer.
Flores told board members the $8 to $16 million costs only include the purchase of the resources. Those amounts don’t include shipping the resources to schools nor the cost of teacher training. Shipping alone could cost up to $500,000. However, those costs can be spread across three to five years, he said.
Ongoing costs, which include items like workbooks or other items that students use up and need to be purchased annually, would cost about $1 million per grade level, Flores said.
The purchase and ongoing costs will require board members to make additional budget cuts to balance the budget, Stewart said.
“We as a board really need to think hard about this investment and I really do believe it’s an investment. I believe it’s the right thing to be done. But it is really going to increase where we need to find other cuts,” Rupert said.
SPED pilot program
A second budget increase, if approved, would fund a middle school special education pilot at a cost of $520,000.
The program would support students moving from elementary autism spectrum disorder center programs to an inclusionary middle school, explained Marcia Anker, interim deputy superintendent.
Board members generally supported this item, pointing out that many families had asked for such a program in previous years.
Increase in substitute teacher pay
The third budget request was for a $1.3 million that would be used to increase substitute teacher pay.
Stewart also noted that none of the additional items were included the presentation’s projections for reserve fund balances in future years.
In addition, the district is in negotiations with educators and staff now, said David Bell, chief human resources officer. However, they won’t have compensation costs until March or April.
The board’s will revisit the budget at their March 4 meeting. They will also discuss feedback gathered from the February budget forums.