Douglas County Schools will get an early Christmas present when an additional $75 per student is added to their budgets in early December.
Higher-than-expected property tax receipts are helping to feed the influx of additional money to the schools, and suggest better times ahead.
With the exception of charters, all district schools will receive an extra $75 per student in one-time funds, which individual building administrators may use as they deem appropriate.
The added funding comes in large part from a happily inaccurate estimate on delinquent property taxes.
“We had assumed a 2 percent delinquency rate on our property tax receipts,” said Bonnie Betz, the district’s chief financial officer. “We actually got about $2.5 million more than we expected.”
The good news became clear in late August, Betz said, when all bills from the previous school year were paid. Savings in utility costs and medical benefits, and lower-than-budgeted costs for substitute teachers, also left the district with a far rosier financial picture than it had predicted in early 2012.
Then, the district warned all its schools to brace for cuts of at least $50 per student. April’s news of higher-than-anticipated state school funding changed that outlook, avoiding cuts to the elementary and middle schools and blunting the blow to the nine high schools.
In part to deal with budget cuts, high schools shifted to a block schedule and teachers took on extra classes. But even if the district could have foreseen the additional money now flowing back to its schools, large class sizes and the potential loss of electives at the area’s high schools would have forced the changes.
“It’s been shared time and time again there were many more reasons besides money for going to this high school schedule,” school board member Kevin Larsen said.
Betz also reiterated that the money found late this summer can’t be relied upon for long-term funding, and all schools are advised to spend the extra $75 per student with that in mind.
“There’s nothing in our systems right now that indicate that would be ongoing,” she said. “We did give them guidance to let them know it is one-time money. So if they do use it for staffing, they need to make sure the individual they hire knows it’s only a one-year contract.”
The savings also enabled the district to give teachers an additional 1 percent pay bump, on top of an already approved 1 percent salary increase and 1 percent retention bonus.
The district’s good financial news accompanies the state’s, which shows tax revenues $239 million higher than originally forecast. Excess state funds are transferred to the state education fund, which supports per-pupil funding in Colorado school districts.
Charters do not receive the money because they are separately funded by state revenues passed to them through the district.