Colorado's education budget proposals have been in the news a lot this year, so it was only fitting to use our April town hall meeting for an "Education Budget Breakdown" session. About 30 people attended, and we took this opportunity to look at the education budget both by the numbers and as a values-based discussion. 

Don Haddad, superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD), was on hand as our guest speaker. The state could adopt a budget for FY 2011-12 that would cut K-12 by about $250 million, and Haddad said SVVSD might lose about $9 million in funding. Also, he said the district could face a $14 million gap due to the combination of decreased state funding and increases in expenses. Meanwhile, SVVSD communities are growing, with steady growth in Longmont and significant development in towns such as Erie and Mead.

In general, Haddad disagreed with what he called "rhetoric" that paints public school systems as failing when it comes to educational performance. Specifically, he spoke about some of the recent SVVSD successes. This included steady increases in CSAP and ACT scores, a high number of students taking Advanced Placement tests, the presence of a "premier" Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program at Skyline High School, and a strong International Baccalaureate program at Niwot High School.

Haddad, the superintendent of a district with about 4,000 employees, also mentioned some of the likely consequences of broad K-12 cuts. He said large cuts would probably put thousands of Colorado teachers out of work, and the unemployed educators might have a hard time finding other jobs since many districts will be shedding positions. Districts will probably need to scrimp on short-term facilities maintenance, which could lead to the need for more expensive repairs in the future. Also, some rural districts are planning to go to four-day school weeks.

Don Haddad, superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District

Haddad spoke several times about a common disconnect found in modern debate about education. People might say education is one of the most important parts of our society, while on the other hand they support flat or decreased funding for public schools. Voters in SVVSD and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) have supported recent local ballot measures to fund education, and performance in Colorado's wealthier districts has generally been good, but Haddad said some of the state's poorer districts are literally unable to offer advanced mathematics classes.

"It's not just about the money, but you have to have enough," said Haddad.

I finished the meeting with a broader discussion about the state budget, with the help of handouts describing trends and statistics, including:

*The state's total General Fund budget was virtually the same in FY 2000-01 as it was in FY 2010-11 - about $6.8 million.

* K-12 enrollment grew by 97,800 over the same 10-year period, population increased by 727,935, and inflation grew by 22.7%.

* The state share of funding has increased from 43% to 65% over the 10-year period, while the local share has decreased from 57% to 35%.

Talking educational performance and funding during our April 16 town hall meeting

I attended a recent three-hour-plus hearing at the Capitol about the impacts of K-12 cuts. Educators and school staff from across the state came to testify about issues such as excessively large class sizes, elimination of programs, layoffs and other negative consequences. It's a serious situation, and I anticipate large cuts again next year if we don't take action.

I believe those who attended Saturday's town hall meeting walked away with a deeper understanding of our problems, and as always, attendees offered quality comments and questions. I was pleased to be a part of this discussion, and I'm looking forward to my next town hall meeting - May 7, 10 a.m., at the Boulder Chautauqua.


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