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Magnitude of DPS budget apocalypse comes into focus

As The June 30 deadline for approving a budget approaches, the magnitude of the challenges confronting Denver Public Schools becomes clearer.

During a school board work session Monday, district staff presented board members with budget recommendations that cut deep into the bone, and yet still leave the district $24 million short of a balanced budget for the next fiscal year, and with a yawning $42 million gap stretching into the future.

Heeding recommendations from an ad-hoc Budget Advisory Committee and the stated desires of board members, DPS staff recommended a system of progressive pay decreases — and, in some cases, increases.

The idea behind the recommendation is that salary cuts should hit hardest those making the most money, while lower-paid workers making $25 per hour or less would actually receive cost-of-living increases. Savings would total $11.5 million for next year.

In the broader district proposal, savings would come from:

  • “Central office efficiencies” (bell-time adjustments, elimination of some third-party contracts, reductions in central office staffing and travel, etc) — $10 million
  • “Central support efficiencies” curriculum purchase delay, extra pay reductions,
  • Miscellaneous central office reorganization, athletics) — $8 million
  • Compensation adjustments for non-Denver Classroom teachers Association-covered employees –$5 million
  • No cost-of-living adjustment for DCTA-covered employees (requires contract renegotiation) –$7 million
  • Federal COVID-19 relief funding –$10 million in one-time revenue
    Total: $40 million

So from where might the other $24.5 million in savings come? That will be the subject of conversation, some undoubtedly contentious, over the next two weeks. The school board must approve a budget by June 30.

Here are some ideas that the staff presented Monday:

  • Pass a mill levy in November — $10 million — requires voter approval during an deep recession
  • Pass a bond issue in November — $3.7 million — also requires voter approval
  • Freeze DCTA ‘steps’ raises — $9 million — requires reopening contract
  • Furlough days for everyone except those on ‘lower range of pay scale’ –$3.5 million per day
  • Pay cuts for larger portion of employees — up to $6 million
  • Use of district reserves — up to $24 million as needed.

Because these items are a mix of one-time and ongoing savings, filling next year’s $24.5 million hole still leaves a long-term gap ranging from $18 million to $42 million.

In other words: there is acute short-term pain, followed by long-term agony.

DPS will hold a series of town-hall meetings and public comment sessions over the next two weeks, seeking different perspectives on how to deal with this monumental challenge.

Board member Scott Baldermann Monday asked district staff to look at a number of different cost-savings options that are popular with individuals and groups who tend to be critics of the current regime. These include increasing the administrative fee charged to charter schools from 3.7 to 5 percent; renegotiating interest payments on certificates of participation; and reducing or eliminating costs associated with testing and accountability systems.