On June 16, the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education unanimously passed the new budget for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year, and there is good news to report.
"This plan places students first by preserving instructional programs and maintaining class size," Cherry Creek School District Board of Education President Jim O'Brien said. "It also adds staffing and resources to support students who may need extra help in reaching their potential."
The combined funds allocated by both the School Finance Act (HB 14-1298) and the Student Success Act (HB 14-1292) will mean an additional $369 per student in the Cherry Creek School District for the 2014-2015 school year.
Parts of the additional funds include $6.9 million to pay down the so-called negative factor, which reduced funding for schools during the past recession. The funds that were withheld were intended to provide school districts with extra support for things like at-risk students (as required by the voter-approved Amendment 23), preserve programs, class size and to attract and retain effective professional educators. However, the funds that were restored fall far short of the $54 million the state has withheld annually from the Cherry Creek School District.
Even with the increase in dollars for the upcoming school year, the district still is below funding levels as compared to the 2009-2010 school year. During that same period the district opened three elementary schools, added nearly 4,600 students and experienced other increasing operating costs, including safety and security, transportation, mental health and classroom technology.
In addition, the legislature did not provide funds to cover a number of unfunded mandates stemming from school reform legislation going back to 2008. Those include:
- $6.2 million to pay for Cherry Creek curriculum materials and training aligned with the Colorado Academic Standards to meet the requirements of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K), which incorporated school readiness requirements, school readiness plans, assessments and data reporting systems for reporting results.
- $3.2 million for training and other costs associated with The Educator Effectiveness Act, which required districts to develop and implement an annual evaluation system for teachers and principals.
- $12.3 million for technology (broadband width and computers) and training required for the new online achievement assessments to begin in 2015.
Despite these challenges, the district has been able to develop a budget that targets the needs of the classroom, with more than 82% of funding designated for instruction. This includes some additional funds for early literacy and more than 500 new slots for the Colorado Preschool Program.
The Cherry Creek School District's goal is to recruit, retain and develop the finest licensed and support staff. Teachers, nurses and mental health professionals will receive step and educational attainment increases along with a 2.8% cost of living increase to help ensure that students in Cherry Creek have access to effective classroom teachers, a medical professional in every school and support for students who may struggle emotionally. All other employee groups will also receive a 2.8% increase, to maintain services that support a positive teaching and learning environment, including transportation, nutritional meals, safety and security and instructional technology.
Because school districts' funding is determined year-to-year by the state legislature, there are several factors that affect how much of the state's revenue is allocated to public education. The TABOR "timeout" voters approved with the passage of Referendum C in 2005 has expired and school districts and other government agencies will once again have to refund any surplus tax dollars to taxpayers. That could mean fewer dollars for public education, and for that reason and others, the Cherry Creek School district budget for the 2014-2015 school year is designed to maintain sufficient reserves in the event of another economic downturn.
"We have designed this budget to be sustainable for the coming school year to fund innovation and to recruit and retain effective educators and supporting staff," Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull said. "But we know from the recent recession that we still face economic uncertainty going forward."