Poudre School District and other Colorado school districts face the tremendous task of preparing next year’s budgets in a time of great uncertainty, as we shared with PSD’s Board of Education last week. Challenging times lie ahead, of that I am certain. I need to share with you the grim magnitude of what we are expecting, as well as the options we are considering.
Translations (posted when available):
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a significant negative economic impact in Colorado, as spending constricts and tax collections plummet. The state legislature determines our funding annually. While lawmakers are not presently in session, state legislative financial staff are tracking the amount of state dollars available for K-12 education this next budget year (the 2020-21 school year).
Colorado school districts have been told to expect state funding reductions between 1 percent and 10 percent below current funding levels. This range equates to a possible cut of between $2 million and $28 million for PSD. Based on the best information we have, we are modeling an overall PSD budget reduction of roughly 5 percent, or about $16 million. PSD-authorized charter schools would also receive a proportionate reduction.
So, what does this mean?
For the current school year, we are managing the district’s expenses and working toward finishing this year with a balanced budget. We plan to continue paying our employees, as expected and with no disruptions.
For the next budget year, we will likely make some difficult choices to bring our expenditures in line with a new and lower revenue reality. Although we may receive some federal funding (which we will share with PSD charter schools) to help offset these cuts, we will still face significant reductions. The following are some budgeting options, listed in order of how disruptive or painful (least to most) I believe they are:
- Draw from district emergency reserves,
- Implement school- and district-level cuts and reductions to staff and operating budgets, and
- Institute furlough days.
All of these options will create some level of disruption or inflict financial pain. There are also limits to what we can do with any of these options – at some point, they all become destructive and will limit our ability to serve students.
The Board of Education directors and I will be working closely together and be ready to finalize the budget for next year by the statutory deadline on or by June 30. As part of this process, I will advocate for a balanced approach designed to moderate and limit disruption and financial pain.
Budget decisions are, first and foremost, also decisions about values. In hard times, we must stand up for the things we value most.
I want to state my values and those things I will fight for. I value:
- Our students. We must protect the organizational capacity to serve our students in this next school year and beyond. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had students with significant needs for social emotional and academic supports. It is likely, then, we will have even more students returning to us next year with greater needs, amplified by this most astounding moment in our planet’s history. We must protect services and programs that are vital to our students’ success.
- Short and long-term district stability. We must avoid over-reactions and quick-fix solutions that would imperil the district’s financial status and quality credit rating.
Looking ahead, we all will need to consider and clarify our own values. These decisions are going to come at us with unrelenting speed. The state legislature is reconvening May 18 with the sole purpose of passing a state budget for next year and asking Gov. Jared Polis to approve it by the end of May. That will determine the final number we must solve for; and then our Board of Education must approve a final PSD budget in June.
Budget cutting on any scale is never easy. That said, PSD has the advantage of entering these tumultuous times with a balanced budget. We also have cash reserves and the support of our local communities. If we can come together in agreement about our values, there is a path we can follow to emerge from the dark and continue to serve our students and communities while also taking care of our people.
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Northern Colorado, you may remember what I said; it is something I believe to this day: If ever there was a community to get through these unimaginable times, it is ours.
Sandra Smyser, Ph.D.