School board gets bright financial news

District unveils planned budget bumps after five years of cuts

The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
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The Douglas County School District’s chief financial officer was doing verbal cartwheels of excitement as she announced happy financial news to the school board Feb. 19.

Bonnie Betz’s upbeat projections come after five years of budget cuts. For the 2013-14 academic year, no cuts are planned, and state-provided funding will increase $200 per student.

Teachers also will get a 2 percent pay increase, according to Betz, though only half of that increase is permanent. While Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said she’s optimistic DCSD will award more money to teachers as revenues come into sharper focus, the additional 1 percent is a one-time bump effective only for the 2013-14 academic year.

“We hope it will be more,” Fagen said. “We spend what we have when we have it, not what we hope to have.”

The district gave its teachers a 3 percent increase in 2012; 1 percent was a permanent increase and 2 percent is only effective for the year.

Additionally, Betz said the district will absorb increased costs in medical benefits and — as it did this year — a $2.2 million required increase in contributions to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. PERA is the teachers’ equivalent of Social Security.  

Parents, too, will get a small financial benefit with the removal of a $25-per-student technology fee.

“I’m very excited about where we are today,” Betz said, as she presented the news during the school board meeting.

The positive financial outlook is due in large part to brightening state revenue projections, which translate into more money for Colorado’s school districts, but also to conservative district budgeting decisions, Betz said.

“We’ve had to create lots of different efficiencies throughout the school district,” Betz said. “We don’t want to create expectations that can’t be fulfilled. We want to get out of those cycles of spend, spend, spend, cut, cut, cut. We’d like to maintain a nice, stable environment moving forward in history.”

DCSD has an unrestricted fund balance of $86.7 million. The unrestricted funds are those limited for use by statutory requirements. Its unassigned fund balance — money the district has not earmarked for specific uses — is $18.1 million. Some have criticized the district for holding back funds, but board members say they’re putting as much money into classrooms as possible while trying to avoid the financial pitfalls of a still uncertain future.

Betz alluded to those uncertainties as well, saying more positive financial news may be in the offing.

“There are several things that are keeping us from allocating out more right now,” she said, pointing to the potential impacts of federal sequestration, unknown student counts for the 2013-14 academic year, and the outcome of possible changes to the state’s school funding formula.

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