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Montezuma-Cortez school board OKs $34 million budget

Coronavirus relief fund allocations still uncertain

The Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 board of education approved a $34 million budget Tuesday night at its regular June meeting.

The budget adjusted the one proposed a few weeks ago, after the state clarified how COVID-19 relief funds could be used. Figuring out how the funds can be allocated is a challenge school districts around the state are facing, said Melissa Brunner, Re-1 finance director.

“It’s going to be an evolving plan,” Brunner told The Journal.

State budget cuts to education amounted to about 5% — a loss of a little over $400 per pupil on average, Brunner said.

In May, though, Gov. Jared Polis announced that school districts statewide would receive relief funds as a way to offset the coronavirus cuts.

In total, Polis distributed $510 million to K-12 schools in Colorado, with just under $1.6 million coming to Re-1, Brunner said. Because the money was distributed on a per pupil basis, $167,746 was given to the charter schools for their per pupil allocations, leaving about $1.43 million.

The district was planning to use the money for an HVAC project coming up at the middle school and three district elementary schools — this allocation was included in the budget proposed at a board work session mid-June. Staff figured that it was a good allocation since the money needed to be spent soon and would go toward improving the schools’ air quality.

But after the work session, they were instructed that those relief funds couldn’t be used for anything that would last longer than a year, so it was back to the drawing board.

After some readjustments, the district decided that the HVAC project will be funded as planned, with recently recovered Kinder Morgan back taxes.

The approved budget includes $32,836,255 of general fund appropriations and $1,459,289 from the beginning fund, or carryover from the year before.

Now, the district is trying to determine how exactly they can use the COVID relief funds.

“They gave us the money upfront, but if we don’t spend it in a way that they feel is appropriate, then they’re going to ask for it back,” Brunner said.

But while they keep proposing possible uses for the funds, many of their proposals have been rejected. The all-encompassing impact of the coronavirus pandemic has made it somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly what qualifies as “COVID relief” — an issue local municipalities have also been facing as they try to divvy out CARES Act funding.

One item that has been approved, though, Brunner said, is the purchase of electronic devices, so that if remote learning does resume, every student can participate in classes and assignments, regardless of access to technology or how many children are living in a home.

The district has purchased 500 Chromebooks and some iPads for kindergartners and first graders, as those devices seem to work better for younger students, Brunner said. They plan to buy additional laptops to ensure every student has a device.