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Budget committee firms up rescue plan for DeBeque, Meeker and Pawnee

The legislative Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday tweaked the details of its plan to help three small school districts caught in a mid-year budget squeeze.

The committee agreed to provide a total of $940,400 in additional funds to compensate Meeker and Pawnee primarily for the loss of local revenues and DeBeque for an increase in enrollment. The money would come from the state General Fund, not the State Education Fund (SEF), as the committee had previously planned. Since then, legislative staff determined that SEF can’t be used for this purpose.

The committee decided to base the rescue amounts on what’s needed to maintain the three districts’ per-pupil funding levels.

DeBeque would receive $282,505 above its original total program funding of $1.6 million, because its actual enrollment is higher than was projected when school funding was set last spring.

Meeker would receive $476,366 in additional funding, and Pawnee would get $476,366. Because Meeker’s actual enrollment was lower than last year’s projections, the district’s overall revenue, known as Total Program Funding, would drop $51,853. DeBeque’s total program would rise $252,022, while Pawnee’s would increase only $1,547.

Meeker and Pawnee are in a different position because their enrollments didn’t change much. Their budgets were in danger because of lower-than-expected local tax revenues.

Basing the rescue package on per-student amounts is more expensive than it would have been to compensate the districts just for losses in their total program funding, which would have cost the state only $738,684. But using that latter method would have left DeBeque with a significant cuts in per-pupil funding.

The three districts have historically been funded completely through local revenues, which means they haven’t been subject to what’s called the negative factor, a device the legislature uses to reduce K-12 funding from what it otherwise would have been in order to balance the overall state budget. Despite losses in local revenues (and higher enrollment in DeBeque’s case), the negative factor means means state revenues can’t be used to backfill the loss of local taxes without the special legislation, which now needs to be drafted as a formal bill and considered by the full legislature.

Learn more about the JBC’s earlier discussion in this story and get more background on the problem in this article.

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