Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The Colorado School Finance Project, which tracks K-12 spending and budgets, estimates that district cuts in the upcoming 2011-12 school year could be as high as $287 million. The project released its final report recently, after districts had completed their budgets ahead of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

The project’s two sets of numbers are samples and estimates, not a full data collection, but they give an overall idea of the situation.

Some 60 districts responded to a project questionnaire about budget plans. Those responses came up with a range of $191 to $211 million in cuts. Participating districts represent 60 percent of student enrollment statewide. (Read the report.)

The project also compiled a list from information reported in local news outlets. That survey found a range of total cuts from $274 to $287 million for 83 districts covering 90 percent of enrollment. The state has 178 districts. (Get full report and shorter summary.)

School finance legislation passed last spring cut $228 million from total program funding, which covers basic school operating costs from a combination of state and local revenues. (Another $67.5 million will be available to districts next year to partially compensate for enrollment growth and local revenue losses.) But, school districts have additional expenses, other sources of revenue and varying levels of reserves, so total program doesn’t necessarily reflect the full picture of cuts. (Total program funding is about $5.2 billion next year.)

Finally, the project culled questionnaire responses and news reports to spotlight budget trends. That document noted continued use of staff reductions, salary freezes and furlough days by districts. Other cost-cutting steps include increased class loads for teachers in upper grades, reduction of electives and other specialized classes, deferred building maintenance, outsourcing of some functions and higher fees for students and families. (See trend summary.)

A fourth candidate has emerged for the at-large seat on the Denver school board. Baker neighborhood resident John Daniel, 54, filed a statement of intent to run last week.

Daniel hasn’t run for office before and said his political experience consists of serving on the committee that successfully pushed in 2008 for passage of Initiative 100, which requires impounding of vehicles driven by undocumented immigrants. (That measure was repealed last week by the Denver City Council.)

If elected, Daniels said, he’d push to slash 10 percent of the DPS administrative budget, “putting it into teachers.”

Already running for the at-large seat are former City Council member and former DPS employee Happy Haynes, South High School social studies teacher Frank Deserino and Park Hill resident Roger Kilgore, a water resources engineer and consultant.

Good reads from elsewhere

Stack o’ pink slips: The Washington, D.C., schools on Friday fired 206 teachers for poor performance, about 5 percent of the teaching workforce. Most were let go because of unsatisfactory ratings in the district’s evaluation system, which includes meeting student growth targets on standardized tests and also uses multiple observation sessions. Some 75 teachers were let go in 2010, the first year the system was in use. Washington Post

Chiefs look for NCLB out: A group of state chief school officers are exploring ways to use their own accountability systems if Congress doesn’t overhaul the No Child Left Behind law this fall. Some state school leaders said recently that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has signaled he may be open to waivers of the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014. New York Times

Education Week also has details on the waiver chatter.

Loans may be in the crosshairs: Mainstream media coverage doesn’t offer much detail on what specific budget cuts are being talked about in the deficit grudge match between President Obama and congressional Republicans. One interesting specific is a proposal, reportedly by conservative GOP leader Rep. Eric Cantor, to require students to pay the interest their loans accrue while they’re enrolled in college. Inside Higher Education

AFT to the defense: Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told reporters recently that the union’s local affiliates will defend the rights of teachers caught up in test cheating scandals, including the mess in Atlanta. Weingarten hastened to add that the union doesn’t condone cheating. USA Today

The Churn is published periodically during the summer.