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Monday Churn: Talks drag on

Updated 6:30 p.m. Legislative negotiations over the 2011-12 budget moved into the evening as the House and Senate attempted to resolve differences over state spending next year.

But the possibility of the Senate introducing its own budget bill today ended when the body formally adjourned just before 6:30 p.m. That may still be an option for later. Normally, the annual budget bill is introduced by the Joint Budget Committee. But the traditional process has been stalled this year because split partisan control of the legislature means the JBC has three Democrats and three Republicans.

Leaders in the Democratic-controlled Senate have said they’ll introduce their own bill if the JBC can’t produce one, just to get the budget process rolling.

Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer’s earlier prediction that things might be resolved one way or the other by mid-afternoon proved to be wishful thinking – or a tactic.

Shaffer and Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty met separately with reporters late in the afternoon, and both managed to talk a lot without saying very much.

Both said they hope for bipartisan agreement, that only a few budget differences remain, that there are no deadlines to reach agreement and that pretty much everything remains on the table. Neither would get specific about which issues remain open and which have been resolved, although McNulty did indicate setting the state reserve at 4 percent, rather than dropping it to 2 percent, is pretty much settled.

A 4 percent reserve is a key goal for Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose aides were involved in today’s talks with lawmakers.

Disagreements over the budget appear to have less to do with the main state budget itself than they do with a fleet of associated bills that are necessary to balance state spending next year. Differences have been reported over K-12 spending, a variety of tax exemptions the legislature canceled last year, reinstating the fee paid to retailers for collecting property taxes, shifts in PERA contributions and how much to use various cash funds to supplement the state’s main general fund.

There have been conflicting indications over the past several days about how important specific issues are and whether they were settled or still in dispute.

The major concern in the talks for education is the size of the 2011-12 cut to state support of school districts. Hickenlooper proposed a $332 million cut to total program funding, about 6 percent. Shaffer reportedly wants to take that down to $222 million. McNulty said this afternoon that majority House Republicans want to reduce the pain for schools but didn’t give a number.

The House GOP also wants to give school districts more financial flexibility by allowing them to reduce their own contributions to teacher pensions while requiring employees to contribute more. Democrats so far have resisted that idea.

Updated 1:50 p.m. At least 60 students at Aurora’s Hinkley High School are protesting the loss of several popular teachers, whose contracts are not being renewed next year because of budget cuts, 9News reports. The students rallied across the street from the school. See the 9News report and read the Denver Post account. Go here to learn about how the Aurora school board is attempting to close an expected $25 million gap in funding for 2011-12.

Updated 1 p.m. House-Senate negotiations over the 2011-12 budget continued this morning, with some indications that a deal would be struck – or not – by mid-afternoon.

The Senate was scheduled to reconvene at 3 p.m., which would allow a Senate-sponsored budget bill to be introduced, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, was scheduled to meet with reporters at 3:30 p.m.

Disagreements between the leaders of the two houses – with the Joint Budget Committee in the middle – have stalled introduction of the 2011-12 budget measure, known as the long bill, which was supposed to have started through the Senate two weeks ago.

Differences include the size of cuts to state K-12 support, use of state cash funds, reinstatement of a fee paid to retailers for collecting sales taxes, PERA contributions and others. But the importance of individual issues, and whether any agreements have been reached, remains unclear, and different legislative leaders say different things on different days.

Frustrated at the delay, the Democratic-controlled Senate has threatened to introduce its own budget bill, bypassing the JBC. That’s what may or may not happen this afternoon.

What’s churning:

It’s back to work for some of the state’s largest school districts returning from spring break – and state lawmakers resume their efforts for a compromise on the 2011-12 budget.

The legislature starts its third week of trying to come up with a balanced budget compromise acceptable to both houses and both parties. According to Fox 31 and the Denver Post, there is agreement on a number of issues, including reducing cuts in K-12 total program funding to $232 million from the $332 million originally proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But one remaining point reportedly is the House Republican proposal to allow school districts to save money by reducing their contributions to employee pensions while increasing the contributions made by employees.

The Post also reports that Senate Democrats and Republicans alike, tired of maneuvering by House Speaker Frank McNulty, may introduce a Senate version of a budget bill.

The rest of the week’s legislative calendar is fairly quiet for education. Outside the Capitol, the State Board of Education has scheduled an executive session for Tuesday to discuss the search of a new commissioner. Based on the schedule set earlier for the search, the board should have some names from its search firm to talk about. See the full legislative calendar.

Meanwhile, school districts continue their own budget talks. Jefferson County Public Schools on Tuesday kicks off the first of two board budget hearings and five Saturday budget forums. Douglas County gets its own budget update that night. Adams 12 Five Star on Wednesday considers whether to support a resolution backing the ASSET bill, providing cheaper college tuition for undocumented students. And Aurora Public Schools hosts a screening Friday of the documentary Waiting for Superman.

What’s on tap:

TUESDAY

The State Board of Education has scheduled an executive session from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to discuss the commissioner search. The meeting will be at CDE, 201 E. Colfax Ave.

Douglas County school board members meet at 5 p.m. but begin with a closed session and aren’t scheduled to begin the public portion until 7 p.m. They’re meeting at district headquarters, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. Agenda items include a budget update.

Jefferson County school board members hold the first of two scheduled public hearings on the 2011-12 budget at a meeting starting at 6 p.m. at district headquarters, 1829 Denver West Drive in Golden. The budget hearing is expected to begin about 6:30 p.m. Board members have allotted two hours at that time and, if necessary, will reconvene the public hearing after the completion of other business. Agenda. The second public hearing is May 5. In addition, the district has scheduled five budget forums on April 16 and 30 – see details here.

Aurora Public Schools board members meet at 6 p.m. Agenda not yet posted.

WEDNESDAY

Adams 12 Five Star school board members meet at 5:30 p.m. at Vantage Point High School, 10900 Huron St. in Northglenn. The board is scheduled to talk first with high school students, followed by their families and community members before taking general public comment and discussing agenda items including whether to support a resolution in favor of making undocumented students eligible for cheaper state tuition at colleges and universities. Agenda.

The Metro State trustees meet at Tivoli Student Union, Room 320 A & B.

THURSDAY

The University of Colorado Board of Regents start a two-day meeting at the Anschutz Medical Campus, Research Complex 2, Room 2100. Agenda.

FRIDAY

The State Council of Educator Effectiveness meets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum, 7711 E. Academy Blvd. in Lowry.

Aurora Public Schools, in conjunction with the Colorado Children’s Campaign, is hosting a screening of the documentary Waiting for Superman at 5:45 p.m. at Aurora Central High School. Details.

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