School District 51 unveils budget plan, $10.5 million in cuts

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Tuesday night School District 51 officially presented its 2010-2011 budget to the School Board, and revealed what's on the chopping block as it makes more than $10 million in cuts.

The District says it looked for cuts in four main areas: early retirement, operations and administration, salaries and benefits and programs. After months of work and making tough decisions, staff identified $10,557,940 worth of cuts in those areas needed to balance the budget.

In an 11 News Special Report that aired May 19, officials said the effects of those cuts were likely going to be felt by students.

"When people say keep it away from students, that's hard to do because that is our business," says Melissa Callahan DeVita, executive director of Support Services for School District 51. "Every dollar we spend, we spend on students."

As a result of the budget reductions, the amount of money spent per student during the 2010-2011 school year will be down $385 from where it was at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.

K-12 intervention programs, which the District uses to help close learning gaps in students who need more help in school, saw a cut of $175,000. Officials say that means the students with the most critical learning needs will be prioritized -- and that some who were on the cusp of needing intervention in the first place might not get it.

The District's building budget took a $577,000 hit, meaning there's less breathing room to make any sort of expansion at schools that could be dealing with space issues.

Funding for the Mesa Valley Vision program has been cut by $141,000 and funding for Glade Park School was reduced by $84,000.

Officials say all things considered, no employees were laid off, the average student-to-teacher ratio will not be impacted during the 2010-2011 school year and no programs were completely cut.

"I think this budget is really a great effort by staff, District administration, and our employee groups to really say how do we share this challenge and really get to a solution," says Jeff Kirtland, spokesperson for School District 51.

One of the largest spending reductions was to employee salaries and benefits, which represented $3.1 million or 29.7 percent of the total cuts. After the latest contract negotiations with the Mesa Valley Education Association, the local teacher's union, an agreement was made to freeze pay for all District 51 employees. Additionally, District employees have agreed to a two day reduction in the total number of days they receive pay.

The District did cut 46 full-time positions, which includes about 16 teaching jobs, but officials say that was all done through attrition and simply eliminating the teaching positions that aren't needed because of declining enrollment numbers.

Other notable cuts include a $127,200 reduction in athletic spending and $750,000 reduction in textbook purchases.

The School Board is slated to approve the $216 million total budget June 15. A public hearing on the proposal will take place June 1 at 6 p.m. in the Basil T. Knight Center.

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