LPS to pull cash from savings as budget cuts loom

Faced with $4.2 million shortfall, school district to cut 17 positions

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/20/20

Facing a $4.2 million budget cut, Littleton Public Schools will pull $1 million out of its savings to help soften the blow, the board of education decided unanimously Jan. 16. The move comes as LPS …

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LPS to pull cash from savings as budget cuts loom

Faced with $4.2 million shortfall, school district to cut 17 positions

Posted

Facing a $4.2 million budget cut, Littleton Public Schools will pull $1 million out of its savings to help soften the blow, the board of education decided unanimously Jan. 16.

The move comes as LPS looks to cut 17 positions across the district, through a combination of layoffs, retirements and canceling unfilled positions.

The one-time cash infusion will help extend several staff positions for one more school year, and maintain a fund that helps offset staff cuts, said Superintendent Brian Ewert.

“The cuts will be painful no matter what,” Ewert said at the meeting. “This is about how to make the most impact to our system during this difficult time.”

The district may go before voters this fall to ask for a mill levy override, said board chair Jack Reutzel, though Ewert said the district won't begin public polling on a possible ballot measure for a few more months.

The budget shortfall is partly the result of dwindling funds from a mill levy override passed in 2009, according to district documents.

The rest of the shortfall is the result of a combination of factors, according to a district news release: First, an ongoing withholding of state education funding called the “negative factor.” The withholding, an outgrowth of budget woes during the Great Recession, has shortchanged LPS by $110 million over the past eight years, according to the news release, including $9 million in the 2020-21 school year.

Other factors include rising costs in health care, special education, transportation and employee retirement funding; maintaining competitive teacher pay; and flat enrollment rates causing stagnant per-pupil funding, according to the district.

Though voters in 2018 approved a $298 million bond, that money can legally only be used for capital projects like school construction or upgrades, Ewert said. Marijuana tax revenue is not nearly as fruitful as popularly believed, he said, and currently pays the salary of one substance abuse counselor.

The 17 positions to be cut include six retiring employees, nine who will be laid off, and two vacant positions that won't be filled, according to an email provided by Ewert.

The retiring employees include the director of learning services, the coordinator of the gifted and talented program, a special education instructional coach, an executive administrative assistant, an assistant superintendent and the coordinator of Career and Technical Education.

The employees who will be laid off include the district's chief information officer, a tech support specialist, a special assignment math teacher, two administrative assistants, a data submission specialist, a wellness coordinator, a terminal manager and a carpenter.

The vacant positions that won't be filled are a human resources specialist and literary specialist.

The money pulled from the district's savings account, which leaves more than $11 million in reserves in two funds, allows the district to maintain the salary of a special assignment health teacher, maintain some middle school and high school coaches and school deans at part time, and maintain a pool of money used to mitigate funding challenges that arise through the year due to changes in enrollment.

The board settled at the $1 million plan after being presented with a range of scenarios to pull money from reserves, ranging from $571,000 to $1.3 million.

Reutzel said he was concerned a one-time cash infusion was “destined to break hearts down the road.”

“We're talking about a bridge,” Reutzel said. “This is getting us one more year to the idea that this community might support a mill levy override, or something miraculous happens.”

Reutzel said he had more faith in local voters approving a mill levy override than the state coming to the rescue.

Board member Kelly Perez argued in favor of going for the highest amount, saying the budget items that could be supported were too important to shortchange. The $1.3 million plan included more money for coaching and a higher amount allocated to the offset fund, called “pool points.”

“If we're going to do it, if we're going to bridge the gap, all that is extremely important,” Perez said.

Board member Carrie Warren-Gully expressed trepidation over spending reserves at all, saying she worried a bigger need might come along.

“The reserves are in place for a very good reason, because there are a lot of unknowns,” Warren-Gully said. “You need to have reserves in order to claw back the money your budget was built on.”

Warren-Gully said though the state economy is riding high, another recession could be around the corner — the prior recession triggered nearly $15 million in cuts to LPS.

The district shouldn't expect too much help battling budget issues from the administration of Gov. Jared Polis, Warren-Gully said, saying the governor's priorities are clearly on expanding kindergarten and preschool.

Board member Lindley McCrary said the $1 million scenario was a good compromise.

“There are so many things on the table that bring value to the system that I'd have a hard time saying those need to go,” McCrary said.

Board member Robert Reichardt said while he agreed with Warren-Gully that maintaining robust reserves is important, he was confident that the remainder was sufficient to deal with “the vagaries of life.”

“We'll still have more than $10 million in the bank, which I feel is a reasonable, appropriate cushion,” Reichardt said.

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