The Adams 12 Five Star Schools Board of Education began a likely lengthy and complicated budget approval process for the 2021-22 school year at its March 17 meeting. Technically, the board will be …
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The Adams 12 Five Star Schools Board of Education began a likely lengthy and complicated budget approval process for the 2021-22 school year at its March 17 meeting.
Technically, the board will be responsible for offering additional input and ultimately voting on a budget that district administrators will work diligently on soon. Though the process is usually complicated, there are unique elements this time because of potential major shifts in state and federal funding, much of it related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Financial Officer Suzi De Young’s first update to the board was about this year’s budget, and how it will finish better than district leadership thought. Halfway through the school year, school districts in Colorado amend budgets to better reflect state funding based on changes in enrollment. Partly due to COVID-19, enrollment numbers have been down, including in Adams 12.
“Adams 12 has been a declining enrollment district. We did have a significant decline in funded pupils and in enrollment this fiscal year,” De Young said at a March 17 board meeting.
However, Gov. Jared Polis signed a law on March 15 preventing the state from withdrawing funding for districts that saw a decrease in enrollment. As a result, Adams 12 expects to have about $6 million more in its general fund balance at the end of the year than what the district projected in the amended 2020-21 budget.
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2021-22 budget, though. The district’s enrollment base the state would use to calculate how much money it gives to Adams 12 next year would be 1,200 fewer students, according to district estimations. However, the district can average that number out, so that its per-pupil funding from the state doesn’t drop as much.
The potential decrease in per-pupil funding might be offset by a decrease in the state’s budget stabilization factor (also called “negative factor”), a calculation the state makes every year to withhold money from school districts to put towards other expenses. This past year, it was over $1 billion, the highest it has ever been. De Young informed the Adams 12 board that Polis has requested from the state legislature a significant decrease in the negative factor next year, meaning more money would go to the school districts. The legislature won’t make a final decision until it passes the School Finance Act near the end of the legislative session.
Furthermore, Adams 12 is expecting about $32.7 million in federal relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act that President Joe Biden recently signed into law. If the district receives that amount and if the state budget stabilization factor decreases, then Adams 12 could see its revenue increase next year by $18.9 million.
In many ways, the district needs the state and federal situations to work out. Otherwise, explained De Young and Superintendent Chris Gdowski, the district could face difficult decisions around staffing due to enrollment declines. The district decided to maintain current staffing levels this year, even though it didn’t technically match the per-pupil count.
“At this point, we just have to have a better handle on enrollment,” Gdowski said at the board meeting.
These sorts of issues have propelled Gdowski into advocating for statewide efforts that would change the way Colorado funds schools. Though Gdowski said he’s more on one end of the extreme — he’s a proponent of eliminating the negative factor — he’s more about finding consensus with other school district superintendents for a viable solution.
“What I fear is that if we don’t have consensus to deal with these dollars, is that we’ll have districts and communities fighting against one another,” Gdowski said.
Prom, Graduation update
At the March 17 board meeting, Gdowski provided updates about graduation and prom. The district is committed to providing a prom experience later in the spring. It may be later than it usually is or not have as many students, but “we look forward to exploring further with our students and developing those concrete plans,” he said.
Likely, the district would hold graduations at North Stadium in Westminster because it can be used outdoors and has enough space for graduates to invite two members of their family. However, the district hasn’t made any final decisions because North Stadium is undergoing extensive renovations.
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