By Ethan Robinson
Last year, The Bengal Cry interviewed the superintendent of RE-1 Valley School District, Dr. Jan DeLay, on the dwindling budget and the measures that were to be taken. DeLay left the community with a call-to-action to vote for more school funding through the Mill Levy Tax; and as of Nov. 8, the public made their choice. The Mill Levy Tax was voted down, and now the school district is forced to deal with this fiscal exigency by other means.
DeLay emphasizes that this problem has been escalating for years. The issue has roots with the national recession beginning in circa 2007, one of the worst financial impacts on this country since the 1930’s. Since 2009-10, RE-1 Valley’s reserve funds have been depleting, but it’s gotten to the point where they can no longer get by on those reserves. Furthermore, district administration determined that they were in an unsustainable situation with the pattern of receiving 2 million less dollars from the state each year.
In 2015, to try to find a solution for this unsustainable situation that was continuing despite the end of the recession, DeLay asked an independent financial committee to analyze the budget. They deduced that this would be impossible to solve by just cuts alone. This caused DeLay and the Board of Education to propose a Mill Levy Tax to alleviate for the 2 million dollars a year that we were no longer receiving. The Mill Levy Tax was voted down in Logan County, and now the school district faces the possibility of having to cut over a million dollars in the next years.
This need to adjust the budget is why administration is seriously considering implementing a four-day school week. DeLay assures that this would systematically save the district around 250,000 dollars annually, so around a quarter of our problem would be solved every year. 88 out of the 178 school districts in Colorado have a four-day week system. This number is increasing more and more because this is problem of unsustainability is not just a Sterling one, it is a state-wide one.
Rural school districts have been facing this problem earlier than the rest in Colorado. Many front-range districts have the benefits of Mill Levy Overrides, which their populace voted for, and so are helping to backfill for the lack of state resource.
DeLay said, “We went to the voters and asked for that, and the voters said, ‘No, we would rather have you tighten your belt.’ So that’s what we’re doing, we have to tighten our belt again. And I think we are going to get to a point where there is no more belt-tightening left to be done. And I think at that point, some of our smaller school districts would have to shut down. RE-1 wouldn’t have to shut down, but some of our activities (arts and athletics) would definitely have to be impacted. And that’s if we can’t get something figured out down the road, because 2 million dollars (roughly 10 percent of our budget) is being lost every single year. And that’s just not sustainable.”
Research conducted at Colorado State University five years ago predicted 2017 as a highly impactful year on state school budgets. They further predict that at some point in the next five years, much of the things that the state funds will cease to receive funding, this includes not only school districts but highway construction, universities, prisons, as well as health and human services.
DeLay likens Colorado’s fiscal situation to the frog in boiling water, being dangerously unaware that this was going to happen. She asserts that a lot of the people reading empirical research and evidence have been aware, but that it was very difficult to communicate to the public that it was really happening.
An enlightening fact is that Colorado is the only state nationwide to have a legislature unable to levy a tax on the public, because of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Instead, local governments are forced to cast a vote for it.
DeLay points out, “People don’t vote a tax on themselves, at a state level, they just don’t. People will vote on a tobacco tax, a marijuana tax, they’ll vote for other people’s ‘sin taxes’, but they won’t vote to raise their own taxes. They just won’t do it.”
The superintendent added that a Colorado legislator led a citizen’s initiative to attempt a tax for education three years ago, but the population voted it down by a very large margin. Much of the time, the public will only vote for a tax benefitting their own local schools, but this was not the case for Logan County. DeLay said that RE-1 may try to ask for a Mill Levy again in the future.
According to the Colorado School Finance Project, the state of Colorado spends $2,685 less than the U.S. average on its students, ranking 41st out of 50. This is interesting because Colorado is often cited for having one of the best qualities of education nationwide. But Assistant Superintendent Ron Marostica clarifies that this assumption is only because of the people who move in, who often have higher degrees and move to the front range metropolitan area.
Marostica said, “The picture of our population does not match the state funding.”
More citizens of Colorado are realizing how flawed our state budget is and are contacting their legislators. Parents and members of the community can always contact Senator Jerry Sonnenberg and Representative John Becker. Their phone numbers were also released in an article by the Journal-Advocate. Superintendent DeLay encourages that if our community contacts our legislators and takes action, we have more of a chance of figuring out this problem at the state-level.
All things aside, RE-1 Valley must look to the future and consider what measures need to be taken. One thing that the district is looking at is the technology we use, such as when taking the NWEA test.
DeLay says, “We need to ask ourselves the question of if we really need it, and have to look at savings of our software versus the benefit.”
The superintendent assures everyone that the athletics, arts, and other activities would only be cut as a last resort. DeLay recognizes that they are very beneficial and engaging to students and make them want to come to school.
“Are they worth the cost?” DeLay answers. “Yes. We are going to look at everything before we look at that.”
An almost certain measure to be taken is the four-day school week. The four-day week does not decrease student instructional time, 15 minutes are added to the beginning and end of the day with class hours remaining the same. One can find research on the four-day week on the Re-1 Valley School District website. Research was done on Colorado’s four-day week students, and results found that most schools with a four-day week saw decrease in truancy and increase in attendance (implying that the extra Monday gives students the ability to rest, do work, or take doctors appointments).
However, the outstanding issue and conundrum with parents for the four-day week is a daycare for younger children on the extra offday. The problem lies in what will parents do with their kids to make sure their safe when they go off to work? One common thing to be done about this issue is that parents work more with high school students to babysit. Possible solutions to this are described in the prior mentioned research paper found on the district website.
Currently, DeLay is trying to get a lot of input from faculty and parents, comprising of the district advisory committee, which has been making a list of priorities and brainstorming measures. Planned meetings about the four-day week will be held. Two will be at the middle-school, hosted by principals of Ayers and Campbell. Two other meetings at the high school will be held by the middle-school and high school principals. There will be one meeting at Caliche. Parents are encouraged to attend any one of these informative meetings.
The Sterling High School representative for the budget advisory committee is Nelson Schroeder.
Schroeder emphasizes the varying amount of staff and upkeep needed at schools, and tells our community that, “These things happen. We don’t like them to happen and we don’t want them to, but rather than be afraid and panicking and worried about what’s going to happen, let’s try to figure how we can get through it and what can we do to make sure we’re successful in making the transition easy.”
Assistant Superintendent Marostica also offers words of wisdom.
“One of the things that the Sterling public can do as a community is to come up with solutions to the daycare. That isn’t something the school district can do, but the public can,” he said.
Despite the impending issues, citizens of the county must not be rendered blind with worry. This is a chance for the community to pull together, contact its legislators, and find a way through this fiscal exigency as one.