This document contains the questions and comments received during the
panel presentation portion of the recent Elizabeth Schools Town Hall meeting
regarding district finances. All
comments and questions are printed below exactly as they were received. They have been grouped by topic for ease of
A very few questions and comments were received that did not pertain to
the topic of district finances. The
board and staff present at the town hall believe these were addressed during
the one-on-one Q&A period at the end of the event.
If your question was not answered either above or in conversation with
district leadership on May 12th, or you have other questions or comments,
please contact any board member. Our
contact information can be found on the district website at: http://elizabethschoolsboe.blogspot.com/
were presented tonight be answered and put on a tab on the website so we can
have all questions answered.
meeting prior to the event as we were concerned we would not get to everyone’s questions
and comments. The responses to the
comments and questions asked are posted on our board blog at: http://elizabethschoolsboe.blogspot.com/
so the conversations begun at the town hall
event on May 12th can continue publicly. (Dir. Richardson)
You are wonderful people that give your time, talent and treasure. Thank you
for the sacrifices you make and the good you do for the district. Well done!
provide the best quality K12 education possible and that we meet the needs of
our entire community.
County School District Financial problems in one year?
welcome. Though there are five separate
school districts in Elbert County, all are facing fiscal challenges. If
there is a solution that ensures that the
quality of education we provide does not suffer, meets acceptable
practices, as well as statutory and regulatory requirements and is
over the long-term, we would be happy to discuss your thoughts. Please
contact any board member. Our contact information can be found on the
district website at: http://elizabethschoolsboe.blogspot.com/
the general public is still not well-informed.
dedicated to providing a K12 school system that meets the expectations of our
community. As noted in this comment,
there is a large amount of financial data available to the public. It can be found on our website under the
“Finance” tab under “Departments” on the homepage, during public meetings of
the board, and via direct inquiry or public records requests. The district has hosted classes (Elizabeth
School District (ESD) 101) on the subject, articles by board members published in
local papers (http://tinyurl.com/q4oswd3)and the
town hall meeting held on May 12th are examples of other methods of
community engagement the board is using to increase awareness. We are eager to engage our community and
will gladly attend meetings of clubs, churches, and neighborhood associations
if asked. If an individual does not have
children in our schools but would like to be added to our distribution lists,
they can register via the link at the bottom right of the district homepage
Question: Money transparency doesn’t seem to apply to
athletics. How can parents find out
where our athletic fees and donations are going?
athletic programs comes from several sources.
The state funds some transportation costs associated with athletics,
individual student fees and donations through the booster clubs cover other
expenses. This combined revenue does not
cover the entire costs of our sports programs.
The board does recognize the value of team sports in supporting a
child’s individual development and the importance of our teams to the
community. For these reasons, though
outside the core K12 educational mission of the district, the board does
authorize use of general fund revenues to support shortfalls in our athletic
programs. Fees and donations are tracked
by the CFO in specified accounts and go to the programs for which they are
collected. General fund transfers are
visible on the financial transparency portion of the district web site. If there are questions regarding the use of
specific donations or fees, I suggest contacting a board member to discuss the
issue. Through these discussions, I am
sure any specific questions will be answered and we may be able to develop some
method of providing increased transparency in these areas. (Ron Patera – CFO)
board members who testified at the state capital regarding the negative
factor. E.g. What was said on our
behalf? what impact was had? what citizens can do to impact? and the
future of this legislation?
hall meeting efficiently and allow some members of the board to circulate
during the presentation portion, not all directors spoke. During the past session, Director Swan testified in regard to a bill
that would limit collection by the state of personally identifiable medical,
legal, and family issue data pertaining to our students. Directors Richardson and Lindsey testified in
support of a bill that would have delayed implementation of Common Core and
PARCC standardized testing, and Director Richardson testified in support of
reduction of the negative factor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DSNsjCQiiw). At the beginning of the legislative session,
both the Senate and House Education Committee clearly signaled that there was
no money available to reduce the “negative factor” of approximately $1.04
billion. As the session continued, and
pressure was brought to bear by Superintendents and board members representing
nearly all districts and students in the state, the number grew from zero, to
$80 million, and finally $110 million (briefly amended by the Senate Education
Committee to $120 million before being reduced to the final number by the
Senate Finance Committee). During this
process, the board solicited our community members (http://tinyurl.com/pru4uc2) to
actively lobby our legislature and many responded by calling and emailing our
Representatives and Senators. Mrs. Andi
Hei even took time to join our Superintendent and Director Richardson in
testimony on the Student Success Act – which contained language to pay down the
“negative factor”. (Dir. Richardson)
Capitol Hill about passed? What is the
current status of those mandates (mentioned by Chip Swan)?
several bills this year. Director Swan
provided testimony regarding data collection protections (HB 1294). This was prompted by a request from the
Colorado Department of Education (CDE) for very detailed reporting regarding
our Alternative Education Campus (Frontier High School) students and their
families regarding medical, legal and domestic situations. Soon after Director Swan’s testimony and
after our district’s direct coordination with the CDE , the requirement to
submit this data was rescinded. Earlier
in the legislative session, Superintendent Bissonette, Director Richardson and
Director Lindsey testified in support of a bill to delay implementation of
Common Core Standards and PARCC testing for one year in order to study the
costs and benefits (SB 136). This bill
was defeated along party lines in the Senate Education Committee, but the legislature
did amend another bill to implement a study of the costs/benefits of PARCC this
year. The Student Success Act (HB 1292)
received a lot of effort this year from our district. This bill initially contained a number of
measures that would have impacted us negatively as well as some that would be
beneficial. Director Richardson, Superintendent
Bissonette and CFO Patera all testified at various points during this bill’s
progress through the legislature.
Several unfunded mandates in this bill were eliminated or reduced. These included a bid to change the way
students are counted to determine annual funding (a measure that would have
been costly to implement and likely would have hurt the district’s overall
funding in the long term) and additional reporting requirements regarding
financial transparency that would not have improved local access by our
citizens. A positive outcome of the bill
was the eventual approval to reduce the “negative factor” by $110M across the
state. (Dir. Richardson)
financial impact of unfunded mandates passed this year from the 87 bills
funding for the upcoming school year, and making no other changes to the
provision of K12 education in the state, would have been sufficient for all the
districts to continue operating. We will
be impacted by 87 new laws. One can only
speculate on their cumulative effect at this time; the effort it would take to determine
their true cost would be just one more activity that does not really contribute
to education. It is not uncommon for staff
personnel to spend days working on reports that serve no identifiable purpose.
There are dozens of these; the district has over 500 reports that have to be
made every year to the Colorado Department of Education. A number of the
mandates are well meaning but, ill-conceived, classroom requirements or
programs. Many times legislators push these programs despite the input of
educators, administrators, and parents. The cost in lost instructional time and
effectiveness is immeasurable. (Dir.
the budget was (had a) surplus of $500 million.
Due to poor leadership and bill tracking in the house and senate the
Joint Budget Committee they found they were at a negative of $50M and cut more
education. How will this impact
Elizabeth Schools and do you know your impact this year?
primarily in the annual Financing of Public Schools Act (HB1298) which provides
the major funding for schools each year.
Originally this bill included an increase of some $275M to account for
both growth in statewide student population and some inflation. This is a very complex bill and the $50M is
likely spread throughout special programs, base funding and some local cost and
demographic factors. A reduction in
$10M, intended to support capital construction and repairs for charter schools
was eliminated but, is unlikely to impact our district charter school. Currently, it is unknown how other reductions
will specifically affect our district.
Once the Colorado Department of Education has completed their analysis
of the law and adjusted its funding formulas to accommodate the changes made we
will know the impact. As we are a small
district and one of 178 across our state, the impact will likely be negative
but, small and every dollar counts. (Dir. Richardson)
“negative factor”? The slide said
$300-600K- that’s a big range.
from the legislature with language paying back $110M of the $1.04B “negative
factor”. It has yet to be signed into
law by the Governor. However, it is
expected that he will sign the bill into law.
Initial analysis by the Colorado Department of Education seems to
indicate that this will result in reduction of approximately $400K of the $3.1M
withheld from this year’s funding to our district. There is still a long way to go and our board
will continue to engage prior to, and during, the next legislative session to increase
this reduction of the “negative factor” over the next several years. (Dir. Richardson)
know why the state is allowed to restore the funding cuts at a level lower than
optimal/expected? What gives them the
right to not restore it FULLY?
priorities and has the power to respond to those as they see fit. Many very
smart folks question the legality of the “negative factor” to begin with. The intent of the people when amendment 23
was passed is very clear. It called for a set level of funding for education
and that that should rise with inflation. We give legislators their power and
we can take it away at the ballot box. We can contact them and make clear our
concerns and priorities. They work for us! The district sent out several
updates and notices this year asking for community involvement and listing
contact information for key legislators.
Please add your voices to ours.
differentiate per pupil funding by district?
school finance act was created by the legislature, I cannot speculate on the
reasoning that went into it. It takes a great number of factors into account to
determine what each district will get. Some notable inputs are number of “at
risk” students, there are several factors that help determine who is “at risk”.
The size of the district is also considered, number of English Language
Learners is considered. The formula is literally several pages long. A very detailed explanation can be found at: http://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/FY2013-14%20Brochure.pdf
District fall into the bottom of the J curve for Colo State Education funding?
funding is determined by a complex formula set in the School Finance Act of
1994. This formula includes a base level
of funding that is adjusted both by student population and several community
specific factors. The
state's size factor, at-risk factor (based on free and reduced lunch numbers),
personnel cost factor and cost of living factor combine to put us near bottom
in funding. Factors do change periodically based on studies done by the
legislature, but unless there are drastic changes in the demographics and
living costs in our district, our place on the funding curve is unlikely to
change. (Ron Patera, CFO)
is a fundamental problem with calculations for determining the per pupil
distribution by the state. What can be done by the district/community to
increase the per pupil funding by the state?
answer above applies but there other facts to consider. School funding in
Colorado is broken, there is a reason that we are 43rd in K-12
funding, even though we are a fairly prosperous state. The state has to decide
that we REALLY value education. A lawsuit challenging the system went all the
way to the State Supreme Court. The legislature tried to pass a law to fix school
funding. The failed amendment 66 was a part of that effort. The law and the
amendment failed because they were poorly written, too many other agendas came
into play over and above the education of our children. What it will take to
fix the broken funding system it is the public rising up and demanding a good
solution that truly serves all our kids. Until that happens, we have to take
control of our own destiny, which means we fund and control our schools
locally. (Dir. Lindsey)
understand now that the problem ESD is facing is not that the local $ is not
here, because with the current formula, the state kicks in the deficient $. So
it seems that it’s the per pupil funding number that is off. Why? How do we fix
state uses the formula to calculate how much we are going to get per pupil,
THEY decide. The funds that come from the community are considered and the
state does add money to bring the total to the figure that has already been
determined. If there are more local dollars due to property value increases
(not including local mill levy override dollars), the state kicks in less. We still get the original amount of money the
formula dictates. What has driven down the per pupil funding in the past few years
is the “negative factor”. The state does the calculation as stated in the first
sentence, and then cuts about 15% across the board. Declining enrollment also
impacts us because we have less students to multiply the per pupil figure. The way to fix the negative factor is to
lobby the Legislature and the Governor.
The board and administration spent a lot of time on that this year. We
can also decide (via vote of the community) to increase our local money. This
is done through a mil levy override. That is local taxes being spent in the
community and completely under local control, not the state. The people in the majority of districts
throughout the state have approved mil levy overrides and this has increased
the overall per pupil funding available to them. (Dir. Lindsey)
have a mil levy override. The last two
attempts to pass a mil levy override (the last being in 2008) were not
supported by the voters of the district.
Mil levy overrides provide ongoing revenue to a district’s general fund
over and above that required by the School Finance Act of 1994. These funds support enhanced services at the
discretion of the local voters. Many
districts in the state are weathering the cuts brought on by the “negative
factor” by using mil levy overrides to continue to fund ongoing
operations. (Dir. Hinds)
levy (which is an ongoing cost) for
school roof repairs, etc. rather than issue a bond (which has a finite
did place a measure on the ballot in November 2013 to allow our voters to
decide if they would accept an increase in the “bonded indebtedness” of the
district. Had the voters approved this
measure, bonds would have been sold to finance the repair/replacement of two
school roofs and several other critical and urgent infrastructure needs in the
district. These bonds would have been
paid off via collection of taxes placed into a carefully controlled bond
redemption fund. In order to collect these
specific taxes, a small mil levy increase would have been seen by the home and
business property owners in our district.
The period specified for this small increase was to be capped at ten
years. The wording on ballot measures
can be confusing and is largely driven by requirements in TABOR (Colorado’s
Taxpayer Bill of Rights). This might
have led some to believe this was general fund mil levy increase rather than a
bond. Currently, the county collects
approximately 10 mills for redemption of the bonds sold to finance the high
school (to expire in 2020) and approximately 27 mills to provide for our
general fund. As the questioner
indicates, a mil levy override
(MLO), if submitted to the voters and
approved would allow for collection of taxes to augment the district’s
general fund. Though a MLO does specify the total amount
collected each year, the period can be either open-ended or the ballot language
can specify a set number of years before the measure sunsets and a vote of the
public would again be needed to reauthorize the amount. (Dir. Richardson)
a mil levy increase because the state is not paying as much as it should?
To be technical,
either a bond issue or a mil levy override would raise the mil levy on
property. A bond issue is to pay for specific capital items and applies for a
set length of time. It would be a good
way to finance a new school or major repairs. A mil levy override would be used
for operating funds and would replace some of what we do not get from the
state. To answer the question, we are considering both because we have
significant deferred maintenance on many of our buildings and hard assets and
we are on an unsustainable course with respect to our operating funds. Since
the implementation of the “negative factor” we have been spending more than we
are taking in and have been making strategic cuts and dipping into our reserves
to cushion the landing. We cannot continue to use reserves. That means we have
to make even deeper cuts or try to increase revenue. If the state had been true
to amendment 23 and not created the “negative factor” we would be in a much
better position. This year alone 3.1 million dollars, roughly 15% of our budget,
was cut from our state funding due to the application of the “negative factor”.
bonuses for teachers who stay in the district (say, 5 years or more)?
frozen over the past several years of revenue reductions, our employees still
receive pay increases based on both time in service and achievement of higher
education levels. Based on a previous
review of teacher turnover that noted a significant number of teachers leaving
at the five year mark, our salary schedule was adjusted to provide a relatively
large salary increase at this point when compared to other years. Though our more experienced and educated
teachers do receive higher pay than their peers in the district, overall, our
district pays considerably less than districts in nearby and more affluent
communities. Our district’s salary
schedules are available to the public, on our website under the “Human
Resources” tab under “Departments” on the district homepage at: http://elizabeth.schoolfusion.us/. (Dir. Richardson)
entertained the idea of going to a 4 day school week to retain teachers, have
we looked at this again? Or will we?
during Town Hall Panel Q&A (paraphrased)) Some districts have implemented a four day
week to reduce costs in a manner consistent with staff and community
desires. Most of their cost reductions
result from a 20% cut in transportation and other expenses that occur during
days of operation. In our community
cutting hours in this manner would have led to the loss of highly skilled but
low paid employees who would have had to seek employment elsewhere in order to make
a living. In order to keep these valued
employees, wage increases that would have negated any savings would have had to
be offered. That situation has not
changed. Additionally, there was
concern that the lengthened school days and longer breaks each week would
negatively impact education. Finally, it
was very clear at that time that the community was overwhelmingly not in favor
of this change. These factors still
exist. For these reasons, the board at
that time did not support a change to a four day week. This current board does not see a benefit to
make this change either. (Multiple Panel
considered to address the high turnover at EHS in the math department?
during Town Hall Q&A by Superintendent Bissonette (paraphrased))
this question is specific to a single department in a single school, the
is more broadly applicable to the teacher turnover issue across the
district. A slide shown during the presentation
indicated we had a turnover greater than 20%.
In fact, it is more than 30%.
Over the past four years our turnover has exceeded 100%. This obviously
affects the quality of education. Each year we bring in many new
time is spent doing things like showing them where the copiers are
advancing and refining our curriculum. We
have found through extensive exit interviews, and confirmed by making
record requests, for teacher contracts in other districts that the main
our teachers leave is for more money. We
continue to work to improve this but our limited revenue constrains us.
problems is hiring and retaining good teachers, why are experienced applicants
being turned away in exchange for young, inexperienced teachers?
effort on the part of the district to turn away experienced teachers. We
welcome experienced teachers to our district and have hired a number of
experienced teachers over the past several years. However, experience is
but one factor in the decision to hire a teacher. Specific education,
skill sets, references, work history and other factors could cause the
district to hire a less experienced teacher over a more experienced one.
In addition, the challenges for the district in terms of ability to pay impacts
our ability to hire more experienced teachers whose pay needs and demands
cannot always be met by our district. As a result, we have had to hire
newer teachers who are willing to accept a lower salary. Our principals
consistently focus on hiring experienced teachers who fit the needs of the
school when those experienced professionals apply for positions with us. (Kin
Shuman, Dir HR)
Retiring teachers that live and are established here... How about
considering qualified applicants that live in the community to replace them??
local teachers to our district. However, in the best interests of our
students and their families, we do not give preference to local teachers if
there is an applicant whose experience, skill, references and work history
demonstrate a better fit for the needs of the school and its students. In
order to provide our students with the best possible education, we feel
obligated to select the best educator. Although we do see the benefit of
someone who is known and has roots in the community, our students deserve the
best available. Given our small population of local experienced
teachers, we must create a larger pool of candidates by recruiting statewide as
well as nationwide for good, dedicated teaching professionals. (Kin Shuman, Dir
districts in Elbert County merged?
the county. Each has a very unique
identity tied to the community it serves.
Elizabeth is by far the largest with a funded count this year of
approximately 2500 students. The
remaining districts are Kiowa (340 students), Big Sandy (298 students), Elbert
(200 students) and Agate (50 students).
Per pupil funding for each district varies greatly from $6526 in our
district to over $14,000 for Agate. The
administrative and facility overhead for the four smaller districts is
obviously much higher proportionately than for Elizabeth. Combining the districts would take an
affirmative vote by the majority of the residents of each and the strong sentiment
supporting local control of education would likely preclude merging. Some efficiencies would likely be gained –
one vs. five superintendents, one business office, etc. An averaging of current per pupil funding
would raise Elizabeth funding by about $840, but the other four districts would
lose from $1440 to $6700 per student compared to their current funding levels
and widespread support would likely not exist for this concept. However, were such a merger to occur, it
should be noted that size and locality factors that now drive up the funding
level of the smaller districts would likely drop. It would not lead to simply averaging the
current funding. A consolidated district would have a per pupil funding level
much closer to that of Elizabeth and have negligible impact on the ability to
educate our students. (Dir. Richardson)
from marijuana is going solely to the BEST program? Does Elizabeth have a plan to apply for a
BEST grant? Does the district have any plans
to create funding from private monies or other fundraising versus tax
Excellent Schools Today) which is a competitive matching fund grant program
that supports capital construction and improvements across the state. It is currently the only program that funds
school construction at the state level.
Our district was awarded a BEST grant last year of up to nearly one
million dollars for failing roofs on two schools. We placed a bond issue on the ballot to raise
the required matching funds. Unfortunately, our community did not vote for the bond
and we lost the BEST grant. We do intend to re-apply for the grants. We are always open to donations and a number
of groups do fundraising for activities and sports. The parent teacher groups
at the schools raise money to support teachers with supplies and students with
equipment repairs/replacement and other significant items. The Elizabeth
Education Foundation raises money and gives grants for items from music stands
to automation equipment. The size of the shortfall is significant enough that,
short of a large endowment, only funds from the state or local taxes will
correct the problem. (Dir. Lindsey)
families impact funding and how can we get them back into our schools?
then we get the funding for them. The question is not, “How do we get them back?”
It is, “How do we meet their needs?” Every kid deserves all our efforts to meet
their needs, provide a good education and a good growing experience. If we do a
good job with that, then hopefully they will see the value of our school
community. (Dir. Lindsey)
much would we need to raise from the community in order to fully fund our
schools? --and-- If you do not get money
from the feds do you still get money from the CDE?
considering all options that reduce expenses and/or allow us to increase the
effectiveness of our spending on K12 education.
One of many areas we are exploring is waiving federal monies. Our current district revenues include
approximately 3.5% from the federal government.
This equates to $600K of funding for our district. Refusing this money could free the district
from some administrative burdens, provide more local control, allow us to gain
some efficiency and reduce some reporting requirements. It is likely that the cost savings would not
fully cover the lost revenue, but the potential increases in local control of
our community’s educational system make this an option the board will continue
to investigate. Refusal of federal grant
money would not jeopardize state equalization funding, though close
coordination with the state’s Department of Education during the planning and
implementation of such a change would be required. At this time we are merely considering this
as a possible option and will not commit to any specific action unless all
impacts are fully understood. (Dir.
service that is outside the core K12 mission of the district and it is under
review. The district will continue to
support Pre-K schooling, but is examining the cost/feasibility of our other
early childhood programs in the district. (Superintendent Bissonette)
besides ACT scores, are used to say EHS excels compared to neighboring schools?
include graduation rates, TCAP scores, number and size of AP classes offered on
site, the level of discipline and safety. EHS ranks at, or near, the top in all
these areas. (Dir. Lindsey)
the student ambassadors present tonight see as the most central needs in the district,
what would they ask of the community in an effort to address those needs?
less cultural and realistic barriers. VOTE
place the importance of those funds? (Teachers/Staff or Buildings/Facilities)
during Town Hall Q&A by Student Gav Houston (paraphrased)) It depends on how much extra money we
have. If it is a lot, I would pay our
teachers more. Every year I have had
teachers leave because other districts pay more. One of my best teachers left last year and is
making 38% more than he made here. If we
only got some money, I would use it for the classrooms and athletic equipment. We have physics books and other text books
that are so old they are falling apart.
Other schools have 20 or more vaulting poles to choose from when we
compete. We have four and have to share.
talk about the school finances. I
understand that a majority of the audience probably has students in the
district, but I would also like to know what specific strategies you will use
to engage general community members.
--and-- Evident from the outcome
of the post vote results with regards to bonds, how do we as a district get the
support of the non-child personnel within the district in order to shift the
vote results next time?
asking as well. We have been attempting
to reach this group of citizens through various means. The Town Hall event on Monday night was one
way we have attempted to reach out to citizens who do not have children in our
schools. A flyer advertising this event
was mailed to every resident in the Elizabeth School District. Additionally, each of the board members have
been active in various groups and organizations within our community in an
attempt to reach out to those who do not have children in our schools, as well
as reaching out to those who do. Board
members have written articles for local papers describing current initiatives
and issues. As in past years, we will
have a booth at Elizabash and Harvestfest as a means to reach
community members at these events.
Should we decide a mil levy and/or bond is necessary to fund our
district, our Citizen’s Impact Committee plans to send flyers to each resident
in the Elizabeth School District. This
committee will also most likely be looking for volunteers to do some
door-to-door outreach. We, as a board,
are doing our best to be available, approachable and visible in our
community. (Dir. Hinds)
Restore PPR, (2) Pass a bond, (3) Pass a mil levy?
Answer: The public can get engaged in our efforts in
a few different ways. We as a board can
always use local help with lobbying the Colorado Department of Education and
our legislators. From my time spent at
Capitol Days at CASB and at the State Capitol, I have learned that the best
communication with our legislators is in person or via phone call. Some of them receive up to 500 emails a day,
so they tend to not read them. When you
do contact legislators, please always be firm, but polite and respectful (even
when you do not agree). The board has
sent out emails with our legislators’ contact information as well as posted it
on our Elizabeth School Board FB page.
You can contact any board member and receive contact information for the
CDE and the Colorado Legislature.
Unfortunately, the current legislative session is over, but we will
begin our efforts again in January when the next session begins. Locally, our Citizen’s Impact Committee is
always looking for volunteers. They will also be holding several fundraisers
this spring, summer and fall. This group
can use volunteer help with fundraising, community engagement and other
avenues. (Dir. Hinds)