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District cuts top $288 million

Colorado school districts chopped more than $288 million out of their budgets as they prepared for the 2010-11 school year, according to data compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project.

While the data doesn’t provide a complete picture of school district budget cuts, it seems to give a reasonable overview of how the current fiscal situation has affected districts.

The project, a non-profit organization that studies school finance data and trends, compiled the data from media reports in communities around the state and updated its list earlier this month. Many school districts adopted their final budgets in June, before the July 1 start of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Tracie Rainey, director of the project, noted there are limitations in relying on media reports, but she said the list “gives a flavor” of what’s happened around the state.

The survey covered only 75 of the state’s 178 school districts. But those districts enroll about 745,000 students, just under 90 percent of total statewide enrollment. The information covered all but two of the state’s 25 largest districts.

The project also sent a questionnaire to all school districts, but as of last week only 23 districts had responded, including only six of the top 25 districts. Rainey said Thursday that responses are continuing to come in and that the project expects to make an “updated round” of that report, perhaps as early as next week.

School districts, which overall receive 65 percent of their funding from the state, have been hammered by the state’s revenue and budget woes. The 2010-11 school finance act and the main state budget bill set state and local total program funding at about $5.4 billion for the budget year that started July 1. That compares to a little less than $5.6 billion for 2009-10 and is about the same as 2008-09 funding.

This year marks the first time that the legislature didn’t apply the full Amendment 23 formula to school spending, an historic change. It’s estimated full 2010-11 funding under A23 would have been about $5.8 billion.

The project’s compilation also reported some information about how districts made their cuts. (Note that totals may be incomplete because of what was or wasn’t reported in local media.) Here are some highlights:

  • Staff reductions: 58 districts used cuts, attrition and/or hiring freezes.
  • Salary and benefits: 32 districts made reductions or freezes in salaries and/or benefits.
  • Furlough days: 19 districts
  • Larger class sizes: 15 districts
  • Reductions in programs, electives: 23 districts
  • Cuts in transportation services: 22 districts
  • Freezes in book and technology purchases; deferred maintenance: 19 districts
  • Increased fees: 38 districts
  • Use of reserves: 21 districts
  • Reduction in instructional hours: 4 districts
  • Four-day school weeks: 7 districts

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