Schools may face budget cuts
With an economic downturn looming over the new session of the Utah State Legislature, organizations that rely on state funding are facing the prospects of significant budget cuts.
Preliminary estimates are that the San Juan School District may face a decrease in state funding ranging from 4.5 to 7.5 percent. This translates into a decrease ranging from $900,000 to $1,580,000.
At the January 14 meeting of the school board, administrators discussed the proposed cuts and began the process of identifying where possible cuts could be made.
“We are dealing with very harsh realities,” said Superintendent Douglas Wright. “Our overriding goal is to maintain student academic achievement. All proposed cuts will be weighed by that criteria.”
While stressing that all discussions were preliminary and decisions will be made only after careful consideration, Dr. Wright outlined a general strategy for cuts in a letter to the state office of education.
These include “postponing any budgeted expenditures that can be postponed without disrupting the educational process,” including delaying the purchase of new buses and equipment, maintenance and contract services, travel, supplies, and training and educational development.
In addition, Wright recommended that the district consider canceling summer school remediation programs.
Not knowing what the legislative season will bring and hearing that some state agencies face cuts of up to 30 percent, the board discussed a wide range of areas where cuts could be made.
One area where cuts are not likely to be made is in district plans to build and renovate buildings. “We made a promise to voters and we fully anticipate meeting that promise,” said District Business Administrator Clayton Holt. “It would not be ethically right to change that.”
Voters approved a voted leeway in 2006 which helped the district pay off several million dollars in bond obligations and begin a “savings account” for new projects. The voted leeway account is growing by approximately $2 million a year, with more than half of that amount coming from state sources.
In other business at the January 14 board meeting, Nelson Yellowman was elected president of the school board, with Bill Boyle as vice president. Yellowman replaces Merri Shumway, who had served as board president for six years. Yellowman said he looks forward to serving as president, particularly during the construction of the new elementary school in Monument Valley.
Mexican Hat Elementary School led the state in improvement among Reading First Schools. That was the report of Principal Aaron Brewer. He also showed that test scores had significantly increased at the school since 2004.
Brewer explained that the growth has come because of a variety of factors, including having clear expectations of reading achievement, district support services, weekly data meetings where needs are discussed and having coaches and interventionists in the building.
Pat Seltzer, principal at Monument Valley High School, reported on a number of significant changes in the community. With 222 students, enrollment is at its highest point in eight years. Seltzer explained that families are moving to the area, that families are larger and there are increased opportunities.
Seltzer pointed to the increased availability of electricity and water to homes in the community, estimating that these basic services are now available at 75 percent of the homes. She added that lights at night and decreased lines at the water wells are evidence of this trend.
Other indications of growth include the opening of the new health clinic, the new The View Hotel, new ownership of the Gouldings Lodge properties, and rumors that Dine College may build at facility in the area.
Monument Valley High School has a key role in the community, serving as a community center, sports headquarters, and a place of gatherings, meetings, weddings, and assistance and support (including tax help).
The Family Center at the school has internet access, a parent resource center, and a computer lab.
Seltzer reports that the school met No Child Left Behind requirements for the third straight year. Student scores on skills competency tests continue to rise.
The school has not had a music program for the past two years and Seltzer said that has negatively impacted the school and community.
“There is a connection between music and learning and it has been a challenge with no music, concerts, or evening activities for the past two years,” said Seltzer. “This is not the best we can do for our kids.”