School board set to revise district's 2018-19 budget

Additional funds narrow pay gap with neighboring districts

Posted 1/7/19

Following years of budget shortages and contention, the Douglas County School District is striving for transparency and financial efficiency, cabinet members say. Erin Kane, who took over as interim …

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School board set to revise district's 2018-19 budget

Additional funds narrow pay gap with neighboring districts

Posted

Following years of budget shortages and contention, the Douglas County School District is striving for transparency and financial efficiency, cabinet members say.

Erin Kane, who took over as interim superintendent at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, made an effort to delve into every department in the district to determine where cuts could be made with the least impact to students and staff. Though a new superintendent, Thomas Tucker, now leads the district, that process has continued, said Scott Smith, the district's chief financial officer.

At a school board meeting on Jan. 22, the board of education will review and revise the 2018-19 budget, which is promising compared to recent years thanks to Douglas County voters, district staff say.

In the November election, voters approved Ballot Issue 5A, a $40 million mill levy override that will go toward teacher pay and school programs, and Ballot Issue 5B, a $250 million bond that will address capital needs, new construction and career and technical education.

More money for salaries, benefits

The district's general fund accounts for 90 percent of the overall budget and is primarily used for staff salaries and benefits, according to Smith. The money comes from state taxes, local property taxes, mill levy overrides, a small amount of federal funding and local money, such as tuition fees or fundraisers.

In the 2018-19 school year, the general fund has about $600 million, Smith said. That's $40 million more than in the 2017-18 school year. The increase comes from the $40 million mill levy override and additional funding from the state. And because of a strong economy, the state set aside $150 million for public schools, which equates to an additional $463 per student, Smith said.

With the additional funds from the mill levy override, the district plans to hire 80 new counselors at the elementary, middle and high school level — a cost of roughly $6 million. About $17 million is going toward pay gaps. Raises for teachers and support staff took effect in January.

Smith said the district is headed in the right direction but still has a long way to go.

Douglas County is about $60 million behind its neighboring district Cherry Creek. The difference causes disparities in teacher pay. The average teacher salary for the 2017-18 school year at Douglas County was $53,080. Cherry Creek's was $71,711.

“This is a game changer for DCSD,” Smith said of the additional funds. “But this doesn't solve every issue that we've been talking about for the past five to 10 years. We didn't overnight even the playing field with all of our competitive districts.”

Prioritizing funds

The board of education met last April for a work session. For two hours, board members reviewed how every department in the district spends its money.

“From a transparency aspect,” Smith said, “I think it was huge.”

The district cut $7 million from its central department in the 2017-18 school year and $5 million in the 2018-19 school year. The central department includes finance, information technology, human resources, operations and maintenance, and school leadership. Cuts came in the form of layoffs or closing a position if an employee left.

Smith pointed out that a decade ago, there were nine directors of schools: one for each feeder area. Now there are four: one for each geographical region.

The cuts allow more money to go to teachers and support staff. In the 2018-19 school year, the most notable budget increases include: $15 million for salaries, $2 million for health benefits and $1.5 million for school-level funding.

“When you look at our budget,” Smith said, “this is a human-capital intensive industry that we are in where we spend our money on people.”

Looking ahead

Prior to the passage of the $250 million bond, the district was taking between $3 million and $5 million from its general fund each year to pay for pressing capital needs.

That “exacerbated funding problems,” Smith said.

Over the next five years, officials say, the school district needs between $152 million and $200 million to address all Tier 1 items, which are building components that risk school closure, such as a roof, fire alarm system or generator.

Currently, the district is gearing up for new construction. The planning and construction department is working on design and permits, Smith said. Some projects have a greater impact on students and will need to be completed over the summer.

The district expects to spend 85 percent of the bond funds in the next three years and 100 percent in four years.

Both tax measures will be “incredibly impactful” to students, Smith said.

“You'll see more funding in schools — old boilers, roofs and chillers replaced,” Smith said. “We are excited to invest that money wisely that our taxpayers have entrusted us with.”

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