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Re-1 district operating with ‘bare-bones’ budget

Board vote expected at June 21 meeting

The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District’s proposed budget for 2016-2017 leaves a fund balance of just $634,122, continuing the trend of dwindling funds in recent years.

“We’re at a bare-bones budget,” Superintendent Lori Haukeness said at Tuesday’s Re-1 Board of Education meeting.

Haukeness and Re-1 Finance Manager Wendy Everett revealed the proposed budget at Tuesday’s meeting. The board discussed the budget, but members will not vote on it until their next meeting, on June 21.

The district starts the fiscal year with a beginning fund balance of $3,168,070, according to budget documents. The total revenue the district will collect during the fiscal year 2016-2017 is $20,823,803, but the district transfers about $3.6 million to area charter schools and other funds, which leaves the district’s net revenue for the fiscal year at $17,204,603.

Expenditures are expected to be more than the district’s net revenue, at $17,681,934, which means the district will need to dip into its beginning fund balance to cover the $477,331 difference. That will decrease the fund balance to $2,690,739.

The district is required to reserve $800,000 in accordance with the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). The district will reserve an additional $1,251,287, part of which represents property tax revenue from Kinder Morgan. The energy company currently is engaged in a lawsuit with Montezuma County regarding property tax revenue, and if a court rules in Kinder Morgan’s favor, county entities could be on the hook to reimburse the company.

That will leave the district’s unreserved fund balance at $634,122. The district gets $7,087 in per-pupil revenue from the state.

School board member Sherri Wright said Tuesday that state legislators are becoming reluctant to give schools more money. Legislators want local communities to step up and fund their schools in the form of mill levy overrides or other local funding measures.

“We hate to cut athletics and classes, but we can’t operate with this low a budget,” Wright said. “Something’s got to give.”

A bill to exempt some money from the state’s hospital provider fee program from TABOR limits died in Colorado Legislature during the most recent session. The program, matched by federal dollars, charges hospitals for the number of patients they serve in order to cover Medicaid and other costs. If the bill had passed, some of the additional state revenue would have been allocated for education. That money potentially could have alleviated some of Re-1’s budget constraints, Everett said.

The “negative factor,” a legislative measure that adjusts per-pupil revenue for school districts, continues to limit the district, too, Everett said. The county’s three charter schools – Children’s Kiva Montessori, Battlerock and Southwest Open School – continue to grow, Everett said. While they serve a purpose, the nearly $2.2 million Re-1 gives to the charter schools decreases the district’s bottom line, she said.

With such little flexibility in the budget, the district likely will not be able to address its aging fleet of buses or its need for more technology for students, Haukeness said.

Board president Jack Schuenemeyer said the proposed budget addresses district finances as adequately as it could. If the trend of budget decreases continues, the district might be unable to provide transportation for its students in future years, he said.

“(The budget) looks as good as it can considering the circumstances,” he said.

School board member Pete Montano said the board should start thinking about how to approach asking the community for a mill levy override. Everett said any revenue gained from such a measure would need to be shared with the three charter schools.

Board member Kara Suckla urged the board to consider a mill levy override campaign.

“Time is of the essence in this election year,” Suckla said. “We need to talk about a mill levy in June.”


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