The Douglas County School District will enter the 2020-21 school year with millions in cuts to its budget amid the on-going pandemic.
School board directors approved next year's $670 million budget on June 23. The district laid out nearly $31 million in cuts, a blow to school funding that Superintendent Thomas Tucker called monumental.
“That's no small feat,” Tucker said.
Roughly $17 million in cuts will be focused at the district level and $3.5 million at the school-building level. The total breakdown also includes about $4.2 million from furloughs that district employees will take in the upcoming school year.
“Our board gave us the marching order to ensure we keep the cuts as far away from the buildings and the classrooms as possible,” Tucker said.
Budget Director Colleen Doan explained the $30.4 million deficit comes from a $22.5 million decrease to the district's share of per pupil revenue from the state and a $7.9 million increase in mandatory expenses.
The School Finance Act resulted in a $457 decrease in per pupil revenue for the Douglas County School District from the 2019-20 school year. That equates to a $29.9 million revenue loss for the entire district. Some of that loss passes through to charter schools, according to the budget.
The district expects further reductions to the School Finance Act mid-year and will maintain $26 million in unassigned reserves to weather that projected revenue loss.
Doan outlined that cuts will be instituted at the school level based on a weighted formula — taking into account factors like a school's percentage of free and reduced lunch pupils, gifted learners and English Language Learners — in an effort to protect at-risk students.
Staff will take two days of furlough and central administrators will take five days of furlough. Salaries are frozen at the 2019-20 school year level for those staying in their current positions.
In stimulus funds, the district will receive $1.3 million from the CARES Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, $27 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund and an undetermined amount from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief fund.
The district planned to spend the $27 million on resources like professional development, personal protective equipment and technology as of June 23.
“We still have some things to celebrate. That one, we have a balanced budget,” Tucker said. “Two, we are not tapping into unassigned reserves. That's going to bode well for us into the future. Third, we're only asking our buildings to shoulder roughly 11% of the cuts.”
Directors painstakingly debated how to make the millions in cuts in weeks leading up to budget adoption time, taking board meetings late into the nights and on one occasion into the early morning hours of the next day.
Initial projections in May placed the budget shortfall anywhere between $30 million and $60 million. By a June 9 update, Doan said outlooks improved and the district could more confidently estimate the deficit around $31 million.
Following a May 26 presentation on potential cuts, board members sent district staff back to the drawing board with instructions to focus more of the burden at the district level and less on high-risk or vulnerable students.
Staff had also proposed cuts to special programming, including the international baccalaureate program. That suggestion sparked concern from International Baccalaureate students who started a petition urging directors avoid cuts there. Staff removed that suggestion by June 9 and, by the final presentation on June 23, Tucker said staff was not recommending any special programming cuts.
Director Krista Holtzmann said she believed the district had “unified around the needs of students” through the final version of the budget.
“It does my heart well to listen to this presentation and see reflections of the process,” board President David Ray said.
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