An early March estimate showed Jeffco Public Schools may have around $17 million to allocate in its 2020-2021 budget, but at its April 2 meeting, the Board of Education learned that the ongoing …
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An early March estimate showed Jeffco Public Schools may have around $17 million to allocate in its 2020-2021 budget, but at its April 2 meeting, the Board of Education learned that the ongoing pandemic may leave the district with no new money at all.
A December 2019 state forecast estimated there would be an $832.5 million surplus at the state level to fund new costs next fiscal year. But by the end of March, that number had dropped to just $27.3 million, said Kathleen Askelson, the district’s chief financial officer.
As a result, Colorado school districts may be unable to receive new funds for 2020-2021, though the decision won’t be finalized until a future meeting of the legislature.
The federal government also has not made final decisions on additional relief packages for school districts, which could significantly change the outlook, Askelson said. The government already passed the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) at the end of March, which included about $13 billion for K-12 schools.
The news of the current state of the budget left board members wondering what steps, if any, could be taken to provide raises for staff members in the next school year. At their March budget meeting, all present board members — Ron Mitchell was absent — said they wanted to make staff compensation a top priority next school year.
The plan was to explore options to allocate about $17 million to compensation, allowing each Jeffco staff member to move forward on the district’s salary schedule.
Now, as more information becomes available, the board and district plan to ask the community whether it would like to see that priority continue, even at the expense of other items in the district budget.
Board member Stephanie Schooley said she believed the community could find a happy medium between being cautious and prioritizing those who work for the district.
“I just always want to keep people in the forefront of those decisions that we’re making because that’s who we are,” she said.
The district had planned to hold two in-person community budget forums in April, with the first canceled and the second likely to be canceled, Askelson said. Because there is so little concrete information to provide to the community at this point, the district has yet to decide how or when the community input process will proceed.
“We want to continue in that effort,” said board president Susan Harmon. “We may need to modify the nature of that or content of that in light of our circumstances, but we value that input in the form in which it can come in.”
The budget must be finalized by June 30, Askelson said, but the board can choose to revise the budget after that date. Askelson recommended the district staff should build a budget that assumes no additional funding from the state, a loss of $1.7 million in interest and a loss of $1.5 million in specific ownership tax.
To balance this budget, the district will have to make an additional $2.2 million in reductions.
Board members unanimously directed staff to go forward with this budget proposal. Board member Brad Rupert said the district should also preemptively schedule an August or September meeting to revise the budget based on government school finance decisions that could be made after June 30.
Meanwhile, just for this year’s expenses, Askelson informed the board that the district may need to pull from its reserve funding.
She estimated that the hit from COVID-19 may cost the district anywhere from $15 to $20 million. Extra costs have included supplies for remote learning and compensation for hourly workers, like food service and school safety workers. These hourly workers have been paid 1.5 times their hourly rate to compensate for the fact that while some of their coworkers are staying home and still receiving their wages, these workers are out in the field, Superintendent Jason Glass said.
Some of these additional costs can be covered by savings from throughout the year. Based on Askelson’s estimate, those savings could range from $10 to $14 million, with the possibility of excess COVID costs being covered by the district’s reserves.
The district has a rough estimate of $87 million in its reserves, Rupert said.
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