Budget cuts are here again in Littleton Public Schools.
As has happened every year for the past decade, the Colorado Legislature is withholding millions of dollars from LPS and all Colorado school districts through what it calls the Budget Stabilization Factor, also known as the Negative Factor. The financial loss in LPS alone for the 2019-2020 school year is $9 million. Between 2010 and June 2020, the Negative Factor will have shortchanged LPS of nearly $140 million.
As a result, $4.2 million of general fund budget cuts must be made in LPS for the 2020-2021 school year.
In October 2019, Board members discussed how rapidly increasing costs in special education (which have never been funded appropriately by the federal government for decades), transportation, salaries and benefits mean cuts are necessary. LPS is looking for savings everywhere possible at the district level. However, because 85% of LPS’ general fund budget goes toward people (salaries and benefits), it’s impossible to cut millions from the general fund budget without cutting positions. The goal is to keep these cuts away from the classroom as much as possible and to protect services in safety, security and mental health.
During budget workshops in October and December of 2019, Board members discussed various options for cutting $4.2 million next year. In December 2019, the Board directed that the following cuts be made for 2020-2021:
Approximately two-thirds of the cuts in positions and salary reductions are coming from the central office. Seventeen central office positions are being cut. Those due to retirements include the assistant superintendent of business services/chief financial officer, director of learning services, coordinator of gifted and talented services, special education instructional coach, executive administrative assistant, and coordinator of career and technical education. Additional reductions in central office staffing include chief information officer, tech support specialist, math teacher on special assignment, two administrative assistants, data submission specialist, wellness coordinator, terminal manager, and carpenter. Vacancies that will not be filled include human resources specialist and literacy specialist.
“The work these professionals have accomplished has been vital to the school district, and the loss of these positions is a blow to the system,” said Ewert. “These are not decisions we would make unless we had to. It was the only way to protect schools from cuts as much as possible. We will be giving careful thought in the coming months to how to reorganize the work and the system. We should have a plan in May.”
1. LPS can no longer use 2010 mill levy funds to continue to fund staff positions as it has for the past three years.
The loss of federal grant money three years ago caused a crisis because it happened at the same time the Board made a commitment to infuse substantial, ongoing general fund dollars into safety, security, and mental health. The only way to keep the positions previously funded with federal grant money was to use one-time 2010 mill levy funds (which had been stretched to last a decade), knowing that funding would no longer be available at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Simply put, until now, LPS has been able to absorb increasing costs to the general fund with 2010 mill levy override funds, but it cannot do so any longer.
2. Staffing at the schools fluxuates every year because it is driven by projected enrollment.
Each school is staffed largely according to the number of students projected to be enrolled in that school. As is the case every year, staffing numbers can increase or decrease at individual schools if their projected enrollment for next year is larger or smaller compared to the current year’s enrollment. Some schools will receive more funding for staffing next year, and some will receive less. Overall, LPS is projected to fund 14 fewer full-time positions in schools next year due to declining projected enrollment.
$1 million of unrestricted funds will help bridge further staffing cuts for one more year while other solutions are explored.
In January, 2020, The Board chose to provide $1 million of its unrestricted fund balance to lessen the impact of school staffing changes driven by the lack of 2010 mill levy funds and projected enrollment will have next year. About $400,000 will be dedicated to “pool points”, or staffing dollars to help wherever there is the greatest need in schools across the district for one year. The remaining $600,000 will fund secondary instructional coaches and elementary deans, both of which are school-based positions, for one more year. The Board noted using one-time money to fund staff positions was not an option it would have considered in better financial times.
The district will adjust to these staffing cuts, and possible solutions for future years will be discussed throughout the spring. There are no easy solutions, as TABOR continues to restrict the amount of state tax dollars collected for education, roads, and social services. That means that school funding will fall further and further behind, and the $140 million the state owes LPS will likely never be paid. The only way public schools in Colorado can meet the needs of its students is through the passage of local elections. Thanks to the generoosity and collaboration of LPS voters, such mill levy override elections in the past have helped LPS continue to keep the level of excellence its community expects and its children deserves.
“Thank you to our administration for bringing this need to the Board when it did,” said Board President Jack Reutzel. “This is a bridge for one more year. I have far more faith in our community to figure this out than I do the Colorado Legislature.”
Passed more than two decades ago, the current school finance act – formally the Public School Finance Act of 1994 – no longer serves the needs of Colorado students. In 2000, Amendment 23 – a citizen’s ballot initiative – was passed, mandating that “base” per-pupil funding increase each year by the rate of inflation. But in 2009, the state legislature reinterpreted Amendment 23, creating the Negative Factor; which immediately began stripping school districts of critical funding and shortchanging an entire generation of LPS students of the education they deserve. (Read more about the Negative Factor) While Littleton Public Schools is fortunate to have overwhelming community support – passing every bond and mill-levy override ever brought to an election – it has still not been enough to combat the sizable deficit caused by the Negative Factor. A look at reductions since 2010:
Imagine what LPS would have been able to do to meet the needs of students with the $138 million in state funding it never received.
1988 – $3 million mill levy passed to supplement the general fund
1992–1993 – $1.7 million in cuts
1993–1994 – $2.6 million in cuts
1994–1995 – $1.3 million in cuts
1995–1996 – $3 million in cuts
1997 – $5 million mill levy passed to supplement the general fund
2001–2002 – $3 million in cuts
2002 – $85.4 million bond election passed for capital improvements
2004–2005 – $3.5 million in cuts
2004 – $6.5 million mill levy passed to supplement the general fund
2008–2009 – $1.5 million in cuts; $1.5 million from reserves; $532,000 mid-year rescission
2009–2010 – $4 million in cuts
2010–2011 – $7.5 million in cuts
2010 – $12 million mill levy passed to supplement the general fund
2011–2012 –largest cuts to K–12 funding in Colorado history; mill levy funds used to backfill more than $5 million in cuts from the state
2013 – $80 million bond election passed for capital improvements
2018 – $298 million bond election passed for capital impvovements and new construction
2020–2021 – $4.2 million in cuts