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Districts’ bloody budget moments arrive

Local school board meetings could replace ABC’s Lost as the most-watched Tuesday night drama in Colorado this week. Wednesday and Thursday brought more of the same.

Around the state, the realities of budget-cutting hit home and hit hard beginning Tuesday night as a number of districts started locking in some of the budget cuts they’ve been ominously talking about for months.

In Douglas County, board members worked late into the night grappling with a $40 million budget shortfall for the 2010-11 school year. Among the cuts given initial approval Tuesday:

* A $15.5 million reduction in the amount each school is given to operate, which will most likely result in the loss of 220-300 teachers or other staff. That’s likely to increase class sizes, though each school will determine its own budget and staffing priorities. Officials says that even with the reduced numbers of employees, no layoffs are planned, since the numbers can be met through retirements and attrition.

* A $7.9 million reduction in central office expenses, including $4 million in deferred maintenance and another $1 million in reduced custodial services.

* A pay freeze for all employees as well as three unpaid furlough days, a suspension in performance pay and a cut in the amount paid to substitute teachers.

* The addition of some fees that students must pay, including a $25 technology fee, increased fees to participate in athletics and a $1 a day fee to ride the school bus.

The district is still awaiting word on just how much less in state funding it can expect next year but is expecting it to be $31 to $36 million. Final adoption of next year’s budget won’t come until June.

Elsewhere on Tuesday:

In Aurora, more than two dozen high school teachers and staff members spent nearly two hours pleading with school board members to reject a proposal to force many of them to take on an extra class period every day, thus saving the district an estimated $4 million a year.

That proposal is among a package of budget-cutting options put forth in January by Superintendent John Barry as the districts tries to close a $20 million shortfall for next year. The rationale is that high school teachers should spend the same amount of time teaching students as elementary and middle school teachers do. But the high school teachers insist they already have other out-of-class obligations that primary teachers do not have.

Also on the table in Aurora: upping all class sizes by one student, cutting some assistant principals, eliminating field trips and mileage reimbursement, freezing salaries, requiring all employees to take two unpaid furlough days, an across-the-board staff reduction and a 2 percent budget cut for all non-school departments, among other suggestions.

And in Pueblo County, members of the school district D-70 board voted on Tuesday to adopt a four-day school week next year, in an effort to trim $6 million from the budget.

Wednesday, a standing-room-only crowd greeted Colorado Springs School District D-11 board members trying to cull $7 million from a $225 million budget. On the chopping block were more than 50 jobs, including nine assistant principals and six school clerical positions, along with the district’s summer school program and $500,000 in instructional supplies.

Board members agreed to 50 of the 139 recommended trims but delayed decisions on bigger cuts and moved some, such as cutting elementary and middle school summer programs to save more than $900,000, off the cuts list. Still to be decided are proposals to increase class sizes, institute unpaid furlough days, cut bus service and hike student fees.

Thursday, Jefferson County school board members met to discuss options for trimming$18 to $20 million from that district’s budget next year, in addition to the $30 million being pulled from reserves. No decisions are expected in that district for at least three weeks but likely cuts include increased class sizes, fewer bus routes, less classroom support, fewer electives and hiring freezes.

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