Nov 14, 2011 6:27 PM by Andy Koen

Education cuts hitting home

Classroom in Colorado Springs School District 11 will be empty next week as employees take their two mandatory furlough days this year. Glen Gustafson, D11's chief financial office, says all of the furloughs are happening during Thanksgiving week to minimize the impact on the community.

"We know that this is an instance where both the community, students and employees will feel the impact of the cuts that affecting to balance this years budget," Gustafson said.

Up until now, D11 has kept budget cuts away from the classroom by closing under utilized schools and trimming positions. That changed with the furloughs as they are educational days that students will not be taught.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mary Thurmans now worries that the students will suffer at the cost of balancing state budget cuts.

"We are losing instructional time, we are losing our ability to pay our employees for those days, and eventually our employees may go to other districts because they do not have the furlough day cuts as we do," Thurman said.

D11 isn't alone. Students in Falcon School District 49 are already paying to ride the bus and in Academy District 20 they will soon be doing the same. School board members for Pueblo City School are discussing the eminent closure of four elementary schools.

K-12 education spending is the single largest budget requirement for state lawmakers making up 40 percent of the budget. Even though state revenues have increased in 2011, federal mandates for Medicaid and Medicare have eliminated any gains. Governor John Hickenlooper has already proposed more cuts to K-12 for the 2012 budget cycle.

The ongoing revenue shortage has some suggesting that educators rethink how they approach teaching. Professor Josh Dunn teaches political science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and has written extensively on school finance. He says administrators and school board members need to, "really ask the tough questions about can we justify these expenses in an age of scarcity."

Dunn believes traditional brick and mortar classrooms will soon give way to less expensive online classes. It's a trend that has already been embraced by higher education and Dunn says it will grow in K-12 over the next 10 to 20 years.

"Costs can be reduced, you can have one teacher teaching more students online, but also it provides greater flexibility for students."

Gustafson says they are keeping all of their options open as they brace for more cuts this spring.

"It forces us to be more entrepreneurial, which is good, but some of the downsides of that those are tough decisions for community."


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