Jun 25, 2014 8:43 PM by Andy Koen
PUEBLO - The deadline to pass a budget came before administrators at Pueblo City Schools had finished contract negotiations with the teachers union. So, salaries were temporarily kept flat for the 2014-2015 school year with money set aside for raises once negotiations are finished.
"What we stated is that there would be a place-holder of a certain amount of money until negotiations have concluded," explained Board of Education President Dr. Kathy DeNiro, Ph.D.
"That's not just negotiations with teachers, that would be negotiations for all the parties."
DeNiro wants to give all district employees a raise and hopes that can happen soon.
"Our best hope is that will be taken care of by the beginning of the next school year," she said.
The school district is still running a deficit, even though revenue grew by $6.1 million. Much of that increase comes from higher K-12 spending by the state.
However, enrollment also grew district wide by 4.3 percent and higher property values in Pueblo meant a $969,768 increase in mill levy funds from last year.
DeNiro said the district's finances are still trying to recover from cuts in state spending on K-12 during the recession years.
"We lost, in the last four years, a little bit over $20 million from the State of Colorado," she said. "When you're a district like we are, with a high percentage of free and reduced lunch, that is very difficult to try and retrieve."
To put things in perspective, DeNiro points out that the board needed to spend $4 million from reserves to balance the budget last year while they needed less than $400,000 this year.
In fact, the $10.5 million reserve balance is roughly 9.8 percent of the districts overall $106 million budget. Board rules require a reserve balance of 8-12 percent.
News 5 dug through the budget and found one of biggest spending increases came in pre-school allocation, up by $1.13 million. Employee fringe benefits also grew by $1.15 million.
DeNiro attributes some of the increase in benefits spending to higher mandatory contributions to state pensions.
"PERA is a little higher and I think it's about 2015 when it jumps really much higher," DeNiro said. "So, that is another concern."
The board is also trying to put some money back into savings but DeNiro says the economy needs to keep improving.
Employees of Pueblo City Schools are given both step pay raises (based on years of experience) and lane increases (based on education level.) Both types of raises appear to be part of the compensation package under negotiation in the new union contract.