Budget woes get deeper

By Jenn Ooton
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — St. Vrain Valley School District officials admitted Wednesday they may slash an additional $3 million from next year’s budget.

Facing skyrocketing energy costs, dwindling revenues and enrollment projections, Superintendent Randy Zila said, the district would need to curb spending for 2003-04 by between $1.4 and $2.4 million.

Another $600,000 would have to be found for leasing energy-saving equipment, according to Zila.

Officials recently discovered the leases, from several years ago, the only part of the shortfall for which the district was unprepared.

“It’s not like a $13 million crisis again,” Zila said. “We’re going to deal with it.”

Staff anticipating legislation such as Amendment 23 and the new voucher law, which would drain resources, already had begun work to shave next year’s budget.

Last Thursday, district officials approached school principals seeking budget cut suggestions, making clear the district would work to minimize pruning from classrooms.

District spokeswoman Nancy Herbert said the “think tank” of principals had been asked to keep information about the budget under wraps until solutions could be presented and the district had a more concrete idea of how much money would have to be slashed from the budget.

The district also sought St. Vrain Valley Education Association member input at a Friday meeting.

According to an e-mail from SVVEA President Pat Sandersen to association members, “The administration offered (the St. Vrain Valley Education Association) information about ‘other budget problems’ if we would keep it confidential.”

The two SVVEA members in attendance chose to refuse the information because of the confidentiality clause. Other association representatives and members of the SVVEA chapter were notified about the meeting this week.

Sandersen could not be reached Wednesday.

Jeanne Beyer, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, said the organization’s local chapter did not want to be privy to information if it could not be shared with members of the organization.

Early Wednesday, Beyer expressed concern that additional budget cuts could force the district to lay off teachers.

“I think there is a potential that it could impact the number of employees,” Beyer said. “There’s a hiring freeze. If you lay off teachers, then class size could be affected.”

School board members — such as Sandi Searls, who fielded calls from concerned teachers asking whether teacher lay offs would result from further budget problems — were initially concerned further unexpected budget troubles were on the horizon.

After meeting Wednesday afternoon before an unrelated, scheduled work session, Searls said she was calm.

“The sky is not falling here,” said Searls, noting that St. Vrain is not the only district facing budget cuts as a result of new legislation. “Obviously, we have a contract that allows us less flexibility, but we will deal with it.”

The district struck a financial recovery agreement with state Treasurer Mike Coffman late last year that requires the district to maintain a hiring freeze but keep teacher-to-student ratios low.

Coffman began looking into St. Vrain’s financial woes in November, after a $13.8 million budget shortfall was discovered.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed that the $600,000 was left out of the equation. It wasn’t brought to our attention,” Coffman said. “But I don’t fault anyone for that except the previous administration. Things were in such financial chaos that I guess it’s understandable. “I’m glad it’s been brought to our attention now.”


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