Jeffco schools considering $40 million in 2011-12 budget cuts

JeffcoSkul

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Nearly $40 million in budget cuts looms for schools in the county, including the loss of more than 200 jobs, the closure of two elementary schools, suspend the district’s popular Outdoor Lab program, imposition of busing fees and higher athletic fees.

School Board President Dave Thomas announced the proposed cutbacks in the 2011-12 budget at a press conference Friday morning, saying the belt-tightening measures were forced by the state’s budget crisis and the resulting loss of $375 million in state aid for Colorado’s K-12 public schools.

“We recognize that some of these recommendations will be difficult for our community, but they are the right decisions during tough economic times,” Thomas said. “The employee summit demonstrated bold leadership on the part of our employee associations, our board and our district administration.”

The package of recommended cutbacks in what originally was a $667 million proposed 2011-12 budget includes a three percent reduction in compensation that will be achieved through furloughs and a reduction in teacher workdays. The recommendations were proposed after a “summit” of representatives from the school board, the district’s three employee associations and district administration officials. Last weekend’s meeting included a federal mediator.

The proposed reduction in teaching days would be achieved by reducing the number of working days by four and adding two furlough days on regular school days.

“Our staff is absorbing the brunt of the reductions with the loss of jobs and the loss of compensation in order to have the least impact on our students and the quality of education they are receiving,” said Dr. Cindy Stevenson, Superintendent of Jeffco schools.

But some district residents fear the cuts would come at the expense of students.

“Clearly the two-day union/board ‘summit’ yielded resulted in union and adult-driven goals taking precedence over those of children, parents, and taxpayers,” said Tim Neville, spokesman for Taxpayers’ Responsible School Budget. “By cutting four work days and implementing two furlough days versus rolling back all salaries, the board ‘kicked the can’ down the road into next year.

“Planned layoffs by design will affect the newest teachers with lower salaries while protecting higher salaried permanent union members.  Board member Paula Noonan’s suggestion to ‘make the cuts hurt’ was heeded with fee hikes for transportation and sports and to end popular programs like Outdoor Lab,” Neville said.

The proposed 2011-12 cutbacks include raising athletic fees and imposing a fee – likely $175 – for bus transportation.

Neville’s group bills itself as “A voice for taxpayers in Jefferson County Public School budget policy.”

Community activist Regan Benson, a frequent critic of school district spending policy, agreed with Neville.

“Clearly, the districts response for reduction proposals is the sole work of employees.  The two-day ‘summit’ on March 4th and 5th produced anything other than result-oriented goals for children,” Benson said.

Friday’s announcement followed two meetings – a Tuesday forum at Lakewood High School and a Thursday meeting of the school district’s Strategic Planning and Advisory Council – that focused largely on the prospect of sending a tax increase to district voters.

The panel at Tuesday’s forum, which featured a presentation from Carol Hedges of the Colorado Center on Law & Policy, ended with a loose consensus of panelists agreeing that there is little public appetite for a tax increase in the near future.

“Having attended the presentation by the CCLP director Carol Hedges this past Tuesday at Lakewood High School where 44 percent and 51 percent of ninth and 10th (grade students), respectively, are not proficient in math, it was again evident of a type of employee summit where school district employees filled the auditorium to support the ‘spend more for better results’ propaganda,” Benson said.

Other proposed cutbacks include closing Martensen and Zerger elementary schools; moving Long View High School staff and students to McClain High School; and suspension of the weeklong Outdoor Lab visits to the district’s Mount Evans and Windy Peak centers.

And the proposals include elimination of 212 jobs, including 53 elementary school teachers, 17 middle school teachers and 40 high school teachers. Most of the cuts in high school staff would be achieved by elimination of foreign language courses as a graduation requirement.

The final decision on the proposed budget cuts will be made by the Board of Education later this spring.

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