APS still addressing $31M budget shortfall as state deadline looms

The school board was presented with an overview of the budget process during a work session April 18. A preliminary budget will be given to the board at its May 2 meeting, with a goal of having it voted on by the board in June, days after the state’s own May 31 deadline

AURORA | Aurora Public Schools is continuing its work to address a $31 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year.

The school board was presented with an overview of the budget process during a work session April 18. A preliminary budget will be given to the board at its May 2 meeting, with a goal of having it voted on by the board in June, days after the state’s own May 31 deadline.

“The process has gone very well as far as going to the community and getting feedback from meetings with stakeholders and input on what the highest priorities should be,” said APS Superintendent Rico Munn. “The actual work is difficult because it requires moving and changing around our systems.”

The school district’s money woes are due in part to a decrease in student enrollment after years of continued growth. For the last 10 years, APS has had an annual 2.5 percent increase in student enrollment. Last year challenged this growth assumption, with the student population declining by about 700 students, forcing the district to make small cuts and to use $8.2 million from their fund balance, or what they call their “short-term savings account.”

The district is currently seeking long-term solutions through a “budget redesign” for what they believe is a trending decline in student population by developing a 2017-2018 general fund budget of about $319 million. That’s a change from the previous year’s budget, approximately $350 million, resulting in about $31 million in cuts.

That budget redesign has focused on finding ways to streamline how APS operates and making cuts in areas that wouldn’t impact classrooms, said Patti Moon, spokeswoman for APS.

“We wanted to look at this as an opportunity to make sure we’re identifying as many operating efficiencies as possible,” Moon said. “We’re taking a look at our operations and seeing if they best serve students or is there a better way to do that work. We want to streamline that and make sure we have best practices in place.”

As part of the budget process, APS will be assuming the cost increase of employees’ Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) accounts, adding another layer to the district’s budget challenges. Employees will also have reorganized employee health care options.

Along with the work on the current budget, APS has also readjusted how it will project budgets beyond the 2017-2018 school year, assuming decreases in enrollment. APS also has to contend with a lack of financial support from state coffers. The negative factor for school funding, which represents the amount below what the state should be financing the school system according to Amendment 23, is about $50 million.

“What we’re a little sensitive to is people thinking this is just an APS problem. Most districts around the state are experiencing significant budget challenges and declines in revenue,” Munn said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of attention because we’re one of the largest districts (in the state).

“The percentages we’re having to cut might be the same as other schools but our number is just bigger,” he added. “Some other districts have had the ability, because of larger reserves, to not do the same visible cutting we’re having to do. We have a smaller reserve with which to work with.”