Douglas County School District: no budget cuts for 2013-14

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Bolstered by a cheerful state revenue forecast, the Douglas County School District announced it foresees no budget cuts for the 2013-14 academic year.

It will mark the first time in five years the district — and most schools statewide — has not had to make do with less.

Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen also credited sound fiscal management at the local level for the good news.

Instead of pondering cuts, she wrote in a Nov. 5 email to DCSD staff, “I hope your spring budget season is filled with conversations about what to do with the money we hope to add to your schools. What a refreshing change after so many years of incessant budget reductions!”

Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a budget for 2013-14 that would boost K-12 education by $201.6 million. In Douglas County, per-pupil funding likely would grow by almost $176 from this year's $6,218 to $6,394. That proposal is many months away from approval.

But when DCSD officials weighed the proposal against its own budget and possible increased costs, they found cause for celebration.

The district last year faced an $18 million shortfall, and met it in part by finding money in over-budgeted line items, as well as making cuts to central administration and the high schools.

High schools shifted to a block, or 6-of-8 schedule, requiring teachers to teach six out of eight periods instead of five out of seven. The schedule shifted many classes from 45 to 90 minutes, and left many students with long open periods.

It's too soon to say whether the improved funding forecast could allow high schools to switch direction and return to a schedule that some teachers and parents preferred. High schools are free to do so, Fagen wrote, as long as they limit class sizes to no more than 30 students.

“We heard this priority loud and clear from our students and parents, and we are committed to meeting their expectations,” she wrote.

Highlands Ranch High School Principal Jerry Goings said it's a consideration, but with budget numbers far from solid, a premature one.

“When we went into this schedule, we said we would evaluate everything at some point during the first part of second semester,” he said. “If I get $175 (per student) back, or even more, I think we can really seriously consider going back and looking at a 5-of-7 kind of schedule.

“But I want to also look at all the benefits we have right now. We already understand and see the benefits of lower class sizes. More money in the budget might give us more flexibility in some things. As we move through the year, we'll be evaluating both the effectiveness of the schedule and second, what kind of money we have coming into our system.”

Districtwide, DCSD spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said the goal is to keep bringing teachers' salaries up to offset the years of pay freezes and retain and draw top-quality teachers.

“The philosophy of this board is every dollar goes into the classroom,” she said.

Teachers received a 3 percent raise this year.

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