If you want to follow the money in Aurora Public Schools, officials there say a new online tool can help you find your way.
The new budget balancing tool debuted at the end of June and gives users a deep dive into the district’s 2017-2018 budget that was approved in June by the APS board. APS Superintendent Rico Munn said the tool was a way for the district to try and go beyond the required level of transparency for its budget and start a conversation with its residents about the choices APS made in spending its money.
“We had an interest from our board on how to make our budget more accessible for people and how to help people understand it instead of (using) the 200 page budget book,” Munn said. “Going forward I think this will be a nice tool for public forums. We can put up a power point and put this up and you can talk through (the budget) with people. Here are the different buckets where we have money, here are the different places we get money.”
The budget tool not only breaks down revenue and expenditures by category and source, it also includes informational pop-ups to help explain the spending requirements placed on some revenue and the inability to raise tax revenue without voter action. If a user wants to decrease the amount of money the district spends on charter schools, a pop-up window lets them know that state law requires charter schools to receive the same per-pupil funding as the district does, and a waiver from state law would be required to make that change.
“As you look into the categories you’ll see we kept it high-level and the work that happens so people would understand that within these divisions there are these departments that are focused on this work,” said APS spokeswoman Patti Moon.
Next school year’s budget was a source of consternation for the district and its board after student enrollment declined unexpectedly from anticipated levels. The drop in students led to a drop in funding from the state which required about $31 million in cuts.
“I don’t mean for this to be a feel-my-pain conversation. What I mean for this to be an honest conversation around what are the decisions we have made and what are the decisions we can make,” Munn said. “I think that provides a more productive conversation with the community.”
The budget tool from the company Engaged Public cost APS a one-time $2,500 payment. Munn said the cost was greatly reduced by the company to let APS use the system.
To check out the APS budget tool, visit aurorak12.org/about-aps/aps-budget-tool.