Budget process underway, forecast looks positive
Parents & employees now providing feedback on school budget priorities
DENVER – While it will likely be months before the legislature passes the School Finance Act, indications are that the Douglas County School District (DCSD) will see an increase in state funding for the 2015-16 school year. Our schools, however, cannot wait for the final vote, which could come as late as May 6. School leaders will soon begin their budget process with the information at-hand and feedback from their school communities.
“If you want to provide input to your school’s budget the time to do it over the winter,” explained DCSD Budget Director Scott Smith. “Those conversations are happening at the school level. They are talking about what their priorities are for a particular school."
The Douglas County School District empowers principals with Site Based Budgeting, so they can meet the needs of their specific school communities. Leading up to the budgeting process, they are expected to meet with their School Accountability Committee (SAC) to determine what priorities are most important to their specific parents and employees.
“At the elementary level, some school SACs only want to focus on class size,” Smith explained. “Literally, only a couple blocks away, at another school, the SAC is advising the principal to have as many specials teachers as they possibly can."
Meanwhile, Smith says secondary school SACs are working with their students to determine what classes they want to take and ensuring that their budget is set up to accommodate student requests.
A school’s leadership has a lot of flexibility in how they allocate the school’s discretionary funding. During this week’s District Accountability Committee (DAC) Winter Forum, on Tuesday February 10, Smith will talk about the school budgeting process and the flexibility provided by Site Based Budgeting (SBB).
“I’ll show them a sample school-- an actual school in our district,” Smith said. “I will run through four different scenarios on how you can set up your building with four different budgets in completely different fashions so that the SACs can see that the schools have the ability to make those strategic decisions about their staffing or their supply and technology, or classified support budgets.”
Smith says this is part of an effort to improve communication about the budget process. He and his staff have been canvasing the District, talking about the District’s finances, as well as revamping the Budget book and creating a more concise Citizen’s Guide to the budget.
“We have really made it a focus of ours to try and promote transparency and communicate as clearly and concisely as we can to our community and our stakeholders about the budget and the budget process, which is a really complicated and detailed process,” Smith said.
The Budget Department’s efforts have been recognized. The Government Finance Officer’s Association recently presented DCSD with its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. This after the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) awarded the District with its Meritorious Budget Award in October.
Budget process underway, as legislature continues work
The schools will receive their budget sheets this week, but DCSD will not know exactly how much the District will have to spend until the Colorado State Legislature finishes its work on the School Finance Act.
The Act, which is included in the legislature’s long bill, is usually one of the last things completed before lawmakers adjourn on May 6.
“We can’t wait for it to be done; we have to start moving forward with the best information we have now and then react as the changes come,” Smith explained.
The District began its work in November, utilizing the governor’s budget as a baseline.
“The governor’s budget is usually a really good starting place. The governor and the legislature usually have a similar view as to the available revenue for whatever programs there are,” Smith said.
This year, Governor John Hickenlooper’s budget projects a proposed increase to schools, including approximately $12 million for Douglas County. However, to put this into context, that is $6 million less of an increase than DCSD received from the state last year.
“In a system with 52,000 kids in neighborhood schools and close to 7,000 employees, $12 million gets allocated pretty quickly, when you’re trying to meet the needs of a district this large,” Smith said.
Knowing that some type of increase is likely, the District has already moved to ensure that schools are able to cover the increased cost of teacher salaries.
“In order to compensate for increased average teacher salary we have gone ahead and put $50 per pupil in additional funds in SBB, to ensure schools have the same purchasing power next year that they had this year,” Smith said.
This change is already reflected on the school’s budget sheets principals will receive this week.
The remaining new revenue is currently being prioritized to meet the needs of neighborhood schools. While final decisions haven't been made, these expenditures could include increasing school funding, accommodating school requests, urgent capital renewal, and/or compensation increases for DCSD's employees.
"As a reminder, a one percent pay increase costs $3 million and the statutorily required increase in PERA cost is $2.5 million for next year alone," Smith said.
The schools have three weeks to complete their budgets.
Smith staff has been working to make those budget worksheets easier for principals to fill out.
“We have made it a bit more user friendly and intuitive than it has been in the past,” Smith said.
Next, the Budget Department will work to compile the information and update the Board of Education in April, before officially presenting the budget, as required by statute, in May.
The Board of Education will vote on the budget in June, so that it can be in place by the beginning of the District’s fiscal year on July 1.