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Adams 12 releases budget plan

THORNTON – Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski announced plans Wednesday to cut 180 jobs, including 94 classroom teachers, for 2011-12 and to ask remaining employees to pay more in medical and pension costs as the state’s fifth-largest district tries to close a $30 million budget gap.

Families in the district also would be asked to contribute, paying instructional fees of $45 per elementary and middle school student and $30 per high school student. Students here already pay to ride the school bus but those fees could increase from $10 per month to $15 per month.

In addition, funding for afterschool clubs and activities would be cut by 25 percent and all remaining middle school sports would be eliminated, though intramural athletics would expand. The district would no longer provide student transportation to Saturday sports so athletes’ families would have to carpool.

“In the end, if we don’t start to talk about the revenue issues in this state,” Gdowski said, “I see a very bleak future for the state and for the kids who grow up in this state.”

Gdowski met with reporters shortly before formally presenting the budget proposal to school board members Wednesday night. He gave copies of the draft plan to leaders of the district’s employee groups last week.

He is just the latest large metro-area superintendent to announce deep cuts following the release last month of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s state budget-balancing plan, which includes cutting $332 million in K-12 funding.

For Adams 12, which serves nearly 42,000 students in Broomfield, Federal Heights, Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster, the state plan means a loss of $470 per pupil.

That’s on top of cuts in state education funding for the current year, which prompted Adams 12 to eliminate 188 jobs and to become one of the first metro districts to charge students to ride the bus.

Employee cuts, contributions

Under the plan, which is subject to employee negotiations and a final board vote by June 30, nearly 40 elementary, 25 middle and 30 high school teaching positions would be cut.

Another 41 teaching positions not assigned to a single classroom – such as instructional coaches, reading specialists and librarians – also would be reduced.

Those employees who remain in the district would be asked to contribute more.

For example, employee contributions to the state pension plan, PERA, would increase by 1 percent on July 1 and another .5 percent in January. Each employee would then be paying 9.5 percent of salary to pension costs, up from the current 8 percent.

Employees also would be asked to pay 10 percent of their own medical premiums – they already pay the full costs for premiums for family members.

And up to two furlough days could be implemented.

All of those pieces – pension and health costs, furlough days – are subject to negotiations.

District and union negotiators begin exchanging proposals Thursday, Gdowski said, with the hope of wrapping up talks by the end of the school year.

Holding out hope

District leaders said they should be able to meet their job-reduction goal for teachers through retirements, voluntary leaves and non-renewal of one-year contracts.

But they won’t know for sure until April and May – about the teachers or the 21 administrative and 24 support positions that will be cut.

“Those are actual people in jobs,” Gdowski said. “There will really be people out on the street, having to find other employment.”

The combination of cuts, including asking employees to give more and increasing fees for families, are based on the results of staff and community surveys of more than 8,150 people. Respondents did not want to see an increase in class size, the superintendent said, but that wasn’t possible after consecutive years of state funding reductions.

On average, he expects class sizes will increase by 2 to 3 students in middle and high schools and by 1 to 2 students in elementary schools.

“The one thing I’ve told folks and the one thing that we continue to hold out hope around is that, if for some reason the (Friday) economic forecast … is more positive than what Gov. Hickenlooper built his budget around or if the legislature allocates more money to K-12 than what the governor has proposed,” Gdowski said.

“All those dollars that come to us in excess of what his plan shows, we’re going to invest in having more teachers so that we can keep class size down.”

But he believes it’s time to start talking about what he called the “forbidden t word” – taxes.

“I really feel like the best solution is to start looking at the state level to properly fund the various public services that are horribly underfunded at this point in time,” he said.

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