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Adams 14 budget draft avoids worst cuts this year, but still considers them in future years

Students study in the Eagles Nest at Adams City High School Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Students study at Adams City High School Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Michael Ciaglo/Special to the Denver Post

The Adams 14 school district is planning more than $5 million in cuts to its general budget for the next school year.

That’s more than an 8% budget reduction.

The budget cuts are prompted both by a loss in state revenue and declining enrollment in the Commerce City-based school district. Even as the district is looking for ways to save money, it’s also trying to invest more in programs that officials hope will improve student performance and provide a better remote learning experience. The district is under state orders to improve after years of low test scores.

The draft budget avoids the most drastic measures districts had considered, like salary cuts and furlough days, but grimmer longer-term projections could force tough choices in the following year. And this 2020-21 budget draft may still change some before the board votes on it June 23.

The district reductions so far include $1.675 million from central office through cuts and consolidations, plus just over $1 million in school staff cuts to adjust for declining enrollment.

Adams 14 expects enrollment to drop below 6,500 students next school year, and to continue declining for several years.

The draft budget does not include any salary increases for teachers and staff for now, while negotiations between the district and the union continue.

Given federal relief funds the district has received, the budget does also include some investments, most notably in technology.

The district is hoping to use federal relief money to purchase approximately $2.7 million in technology. District officials have been waiting for more guidance on how to spend the relief funds, but want to purchase a new central phone and public announcement system, more devices for students and staff, plus webcams, document cameras, and internet for families that don’t have it.

Adams 14, like the majority of metro area school districts, is still considering starting the fall semester with a hybrid model of learning that would have students alternating learning from home and learning online throughout the week.

Even if that doesn’t happen, officials have cautioned that it’s also possible schools might need to switch to learning online temporarily in case of an outbreak, and if COVID-19 cases spike again, health officials could require all students to go back to learning from home.

“We absolutely have to have that option available,” said Shae Martinez, chief financial officer for Adams 14. “So these purchases are necessary for us to be ready for a hybrid or an online model.”

The draft budget does propose an increase in expenditures for Career and Technical Education, and for AVID, a support program for college-going high school students. Improving Adams City High School student outcomes remains an urgent need for the district.

The district, which is under outside management by MGT Consulting, has also been able to find grants to cover the meals the district had been providing families while school buildings were closed. A grant will also help cover a portion of the cost of MGT’s contract. Money to cover bonuses that MGT is eligible for under its contract with Adams 14 are included in reserves.

Other increases in spending are being considered as options, particularly if relief funds help cover other urgent needs like technology. For example, the district is interested in expanding preschool for $140,000, paying to continue providing adult education for $390,000, or expanding programming for the district’s English language learners with $272,000.

Looking farther out, Martinez told the Adams 14 school board that reserves will be important to help prevent major cuts if revenue for the district continues to drop.

Among the options that the district is looking into in case more drastic cuts are necessary the following years is selling the land where Alsup Elementary used to be located, consolidating small elementary schools such as Hanson and Monaco, or going to a four-day school week.

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