Poudre School District finalizes 2020-21 budget, shores up reserves for coronavirus impacts



The laptops will help Fort Collins area students in their remote learning. The district’s schools will be closed to students until at least April 17. Fort Collins Coloradoan

After months of uncertainty as coronavirus-related impacts wreaked havoc on the school year and district budget planning, Poudre School District finally has a financial path forward.

The PSD Board of Education approved the district’s $313.9 million budget for the 2020-21 school year this week — an annual process complicated by a later-than-normal finish to Colorado’s legislative session and reduced state funding due to the economic toll of the pandemic.

As the state worked out its budget, the district cut about $15 million in preparation for those funding cuts while simultaneously implementing staff raises and adding mental health positions, both promised in the 2019 voter-approved mill levy. It had to navigate the ins and outs of using $12.9 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, along with government limitations placed on those funds. 

And it had to prepare for a fall of uncertainty as the potential for a second surge of COVID-19 cases looms, leaving whether students will return to the classroom full-time this August uncertain.

“Trying to put a budget together for a school district during any time is kind of like drowning, and this is like you’re drowning and we throw an anchor at you,” board member Naomi Johnson said during the board’s discussion of the budget Tuesday.

Here are the highlights of what that budget will mean for PSD, its teachers and its students. 

Coronavirus preparations

Top of mind for many board members during Tuesday’s discussion was whether the district is prepared for another wave of the coronavirus, from having enough masks to having appropriate staffing to clean school buildings appropriately to limit the virus’ spread after this year’s staffing reductions. 

PSD was allocated $12.9 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. That funding came with federal restrictions and had to be spent by December 2020 or it would be forfeited. Because of those constraints, the district was unsure how it would be able to use the funds and what all they might be able to cover. 

But by working with an auditor, PSD was able to use all those funds this school year to cover costs the district incurred for personal protective equipment, technology needs and salaries and benefits of licensed staff who had different job responsibilities due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

That means the district was able to save $12.9 million in general fund dollars from the 2019-20 budget and roll those funds into reserves, providing more flexibility to respond to coronavirus-related needs next school year. 

“That’s pivotal for this district,” PSD Executive Director of Finance Dave Montoya told the board Tuesday. ” … For a while it felt like we were going to have to try to do a square peg in a round hole to utilize those funds, and this solution is elegant and it’s supportable.”

More: Amid coronavirus, Poudre School District plans for worst, hopes for full return to schools

The district is working to build its stock of personal protective equipment, Montoya and Executive Director of Operations Matt Bryant told the board.

“Many of those items are hard to source” right now, Montoya told the board, but the district is working to procure more masks and other equipment. “If they have it and it’s a good price, we’re getting it,” he said.

Bryant said PSD has about 9,000 non-surgical masks in stock and is ordering more. It has “a couple hundred” N95 masks for those needing a higher level of protection. The district is also looking into getting face shields for teachers, Bryant noted. 

When asked if the district would be able to supply staff and students with masks throughout the year, Bryant said district staff are “trying to get enough in stock that we can do some of that,” but the district has not decided how and if it can supply masks daily. 

For perspective, the district expects to serve more than 27,000 students next year, not including those enrolled at district charter schools. 

Bryant said the district hopes families will try to supply students’ masks, but that conversation is ongoing.

Board member Carolyn Reed questioned whether the district had enough janitorial capacity following districtwide cuts, including to classified employees, to meet extra cleaning requirements related to coronavirus. 

“We’re putting together plans for cleaning the schools now, ” Bryant said. “Obviously there’s going to have to be some changes in some of the cleaning we’ve done in the past so that we can concentrate on the COVID-19 cleaning.” 

He said the district is investing in cleaning materials and equipment that will “help us clean faster and more efficiently,” including ionizer units and cleaning equipment for bathrooms.

More: Poudre School District approves school resource officer contracts for upcoming school year

Budget cuts

PSD has not released a detailed list of budget cuts in terms of the number of staff and positions that have been eliminated during this year’s reductions. 

PSD Budget Director Brett Parsons told the board Tuesday that the final cuts, which were not solely made through staff reductions, totaled between $15 million and $16 million. The district had previously said it was facing a budget deficit of about $15 million with a worst-case scenario of $28 million for the 2020-21 school year.

According to previous Coloradoan reporting and information released from the district, at least $14.5 million in cuts were:

  • A $7.3 million decrease for school-based-budgeting allocation reductions 
  • A $1.5 million decrease for teacher-capacity funds reallocation 
  • A $1.5 million reduction in teacher professional development funds that were created following budget cuts to PSD’s central administration two years ago
  • A $4.2 million decrease for central budgets and programs 

On June 2, the board approved a fiscal emergency that would allow it to lay off classified employees. Classified employees include custodians, as referenced in Reed’s concern about extra cleaning required for COVID-19.

“These cuts are going to hurt, but I think it’s a good breakdown between ongoing cuts and one-time cuts,” board member Nate Donovan said Tuesday. 

More: Due to coronavirus, most Poudre School District students likely can’t take the bus this fall

Staff pay

Another factor in this year’s budget was the 2019 mill levy, which is expected to bring in $18 million to the district each year. The bulk of that funding — $14.7 million — is meant to increase teacher salaries. 

In 2019-20, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree made $38,731 in PSD, while a teacher who maxed out the salary schedule in years of experience and continuing education (a doctorate) made $89,528. 

In 2020-21, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will earn $44,000 —  $5,269 more than this past year — and the maximum teacher salary is $93,761 — $4,233 more. 

You can view the 2019-20 and 2020-21 salary schedules on PSD’s website.

The mill levy funds also supported $2 million in bringing additional mental health and safety/security personnel to the district. Of those funds, $1.5 million will support half the salaries of new mental health professionals in elementary schools with the remaining funds supporting mental health professionals in PSD’s middle and high schools this coming school year, Parsons told the board.

More: Tracking Coronavirus in Colorado: Number of Colorado and Larimer County cases, deaths

Ongoing changes

As is relatable to most during the pandemic, the financial impacts to the district in 2020-21 remain unknown. 

Montoya told the board the district will review the budget quarterly and will make adjustments “on a regular basis.” The next economic forecast should be released in late September, he said. 

“It’s going to be a very different budget process going forward,” he said. “It’s going to be a very involved one.” 

Sarah Kyle is a content coach at the Coloradoan. Contact her at sarahkyle@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

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