Powell school district tightens budget

Posted 5/4/21

Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, said, “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”

Park County School District 1 may very well …

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Powell school district tightens budget


Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, said, “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”

Park County School District 1 may very well have that saying on a wall plaque somewhere. Faced with the warning that K-12 education funding could be cut some $100 million across the state — and the potential of some $1.2 million in cuts at PCSD1 — the administration did not panic. Instead, it sought solutions that would have little or no impact on the district’s culture and on the students in the classroom.

Then, when the Legislature was unable to come to agreement on education funding — meaning it would remain the same for 2021-22 as in 2020-21 — the district did not simply take the bye and use last year’s figures.

Superintendent Jay Curtis presented the board of trustees April 27 with his recommendation to move forward with the budget reductions. 

Attrition is first on the list, utilizing retirements and not replacing some staff who are leaving. Some other positions are transferred from one category to another, resulting in savings. 

For example, the duties formerly performed by a mail person are being absorbed by administrative staff. An instructional facilitator at Powell Middle School will not be replaced. Some teachers who are retiring are at the top of the pay scale. Their replacements have less experience and therefore lower salaries. Some salaries are moved from regular funding sources to federal CARES Act and other relief funding money. A custodial position that was grandfathered in as a 12-month contract is being replaced with a nine-month staff member when the 12-month employee retires. Those changes and others like it resulted in more than half a million dollars in savings, all without letting anyone go from a job they wanted to keep. 

“As a district, we are using the philosophy that we seek attrition as the main source of reduction, either not hiring positions that have been vacated, or seeking lower cost employees to fill them,” Curtis said. “Second, we will leverage various grants to supplement our instructional program and third, we are ‘tightening our belts’ so to speak, in various portions of our operating budget.”

The changes in funding methods were almost seamless and students are unlikely to notice the difference.

Summer school and credit recovery was moved to federal funding, which is a perfectly acceptable use for those dollars. That saved more than $100,000, as did using federal money for technology. Other cuts in operations reduced that line item another $103,500 and moving staff training costs to a federal program for that very purpose cut $25,000. 

Next year, coaches and students in activities will fundraise to pay for their meals, saving $30,000. The district will still foot the bill for meals at state final competitions.

These economies total $941,440 off the bottom line. 

But the district didn’t stop there. It has identified another $952,940 in reductions that, although not recommended at this time, could be made if necessary.

But because budgets are made up of income and outgo, the district and administration addressed income as well.

The district is well on its way to launching a virtual school, with the hopes it will recapture students who left during the pandemic and now attend other virtual schools. The Powell district’s virtual school would bring in $450,000 a year if it draws 30 students. There will be additional funding from COVID-related dollars, including $27,000 for administering a mental health grant the district procured and $70,000 reimbursement for special education, coming to $772,000 in income streams.

Not recommended are activity participation fees at the high school and middle school level. Those were worth $38,200.

The total of the recommended reductions and the income for the 2021-22 year comes to $1,713,440. 

Curtis was quick to give credit to Mary Jo Lewis, business manager for the district.

“I just wanted it to be known that we have an excellent, highly skilled business manager that truly cares about this district, and that this budget process would be infinitely more difficult with a more inexperienced business manager,” Curtis wrote in a follow-up email. “I truly can’t thank her enough for her hard work in helping us keep our reductions as far away from the classroom as possible.”

Lewis has been the business manager for the school district for just over 20 years.