Eliminating full-day kindergarten, adding furlough days and cutting middle school sports are among the steps Aurora Public Schools is considering to shrink next year’s budget as the district copes with an array of financial challenges.
The three scenarios are part of a long list of possible moves district officials are considering to slash the 2017-18 budget, which needs to be about $31 million less than the current year’s budget.
The district cut $3 million from central administration in the middle of this school year after an unanticipated enrollment decline, its largest in decades.
More expected declines in enrollment and other factors are causing district officials to seek community input on what to prioritize as it faces tough decisions about next year’s budget.
Like districts across the state, Aurora is also expecting state funding will again fall short of the amount that a state formula calculates it should get. Cuts could be even greater next year because a state constitutional amendment may drop residential property taxes, meaning districts would lose some local revenue.
The Aurora district has held back big cuts to the classroom in recent years by spending money from the district’s reserves — a rainy-day fund of unallocated savings — but now the district wants to start building up that account again instead of draining it.
“It’s a challenging mix of contributing factors,” said Rico Munn, superintendent of Aurora Public Schools.
At an open house Saturday about the district’s budget conundrum, one person asked Munn why the district hadn’t asked voters for a tax increase from a mill levy override in November at the same time as a $300 million bond request — which voters approved — in anticipation of the cuts.
Munn said asking for both may have doomed the requests but said the district is considering asking voters for such a tax increase next year. Anticipating a longer trend of shrinking enrollment, he said the budget still needs to shrink.
A tax increase is not meant to address a drop in students, Munn said.
“It’s not appropriate for us to say we have fewer students but we want more money,” he said.
The district already has come up with one set of proposed cuts that would account for $21.8 million of the $31 million the district aims to cut. Those steps include renegotiating employee health benefits, eliminating late-start Wednesdays at some schools and charging more overhead costs to state funds that help districts for things like preschool.
The district is asking for community feedback on other possible cuts to find the rest of the savings. Officials are sharing a list of 41 ideas for cutting the budget and created four scenarios including one that just reduces school staffing. People also have the option to draw their own budget from the list.
Some of the ideas include shifting to a four-day week for a savings of $450,000; eliminating three swimming pools at high schools for a savings of $500,000; and postponing or canceling the adoption of new curriculum materials for a savings of $2.4 million.
Looking through the list, Marisa Sanchez, a mother of two boys in the district, worried that many choices would have too much of an impact on students.
“Wanting to remove staff from schools shouldn’t be an option,” Sanchez said. “They’re there because they are necessary. I’m a volunteer at my son’s school and I see it.”
Donna Godfrey said she is fine with the district getting rid of swimming pools but also doesn’t want to see less staff in schools. She said she worried about classrooms filled with students that need more support like those learning English or who are new to the country.
“Adding just three more students to that class, it’s a bad thing,” Godfrey said.
Sanchez also worried that shifting the enrollment process to the schools instead of at the district-level, an idea that would save $443,085, “would be chaos.”
Munn said he hasn’t processed the feedback that the district has received so far, but said it will all be considered.
“What I’m happy about is that people can actually digest these options and think about some of the tough choices we have to make,” Munn said.
The district will have one more open house at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Vista PEAK Exploratory School, 24551 E. 1st Ave. Online, the district will continue to take feedback through Feb. 3.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that more drastic budget cuts could be expected next year because of a change in personal property taxes.