CCSD is making plans to fund schools based on needs, not enrollment numbers

This diagram from the Colorado School Finance Project illustrates the different legislation that impacts K-12.


Scott Smith, Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) chief operating officer and chief financial officer, presented financial highlights from the CCSD 2021-2022 annual budget at the June 23 meeting of the school board.

In addition to reporting on finances, Smith also shared, “Going into next year, we are going to look at how we budget schools. For a long time in this district, we have funded schools equally, largely based on enrollment…So, if you go to an elementary school with 350 students versus an elementary school with 750 students, your child has a vastly different experience… We’ve recognized since 1994 that it costs different amounts of money to educate different students who come to us in different places with different needs. We need to make sure that our funding model reflects that. What this is not is cutting from one school to give to another…As we grow into the future there’s a way to grow strategically to make sure that our money is (spent) in support of the district’s strategic plan…It’s just a fact that it costs different amounts of money to educate (different) students.” The plan is “to start launching that with our next school year…It is going to be an iterative process.”

Smith reported that in FY 2021-2022, per pupil total funding will be $8,966, up 10.6 percent from $8,107 in FY 2020-2021. Total enrollment is expected to increase slightly, as some students return who were not enrolled last year as a result of the pandemic. The total projected funded pupil count for FY 2021-2022 is 53,839 students.

Changes to the coming fiscal year CCSD general fund budget will see 1) all furlough days imposed last year removed (cost = $10 million), 2) a one-time cost-of-living payment of $1,000 to all CCSD staff (cost = just under $22 million), lower teacher/student ratios in elementary and middle schools (cost = $2.5 million), and the needed replacement of some school busses and other district vehicles. On the other side of the ledger, CCSD will realize $1 million in savings from contracts renegotiated during the pandemic.

Teachers’ salaries in CCSD comprise 74 percent of the total personnel payroll.  

With all expected funding and planned expenditures, projected general fund revenues will exceed spending by $390,000 in FY 2021-2022.

Other budget highlights Smith noted included “funding 1:1 technology for all students,” which is a fancy way of saying that every student in CCSD, starting in kindergarten, is guaranteed to have access to a computer while in school. Smith also pointed out that all meals for all students in all public schools across the country will be free for the coming school year, courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture. He encouraged families to take advantage of this perk. 

Pointing to the diagram (above on the left), Smith noted the complexities of school funding, including “an interim committee of legislators to study school finance.” He also cautioned, “There is a belief among many legislators that districts such as ours are overfunded.” Later, in response to a question from school board member Kelly Bates, Smith expounded on that topic, saying that there is a risk to CCSD because, “There are many people in the legislature, including people who are close to our community, who believe our school district is overfunded. We have seen bills…that would instantly cut our funding $60 million a year, overnight, because there is a perception that it is unfair that we have had such community support over the past two or three decades when other school districts haven’t, that we have been unjustly enriched…If that were to come to fruition it would be devastating to…our ability to deliver excellence.”

When Bates asked Smith “what we should say to our constituents who say our teachers make too much money,” Smith responded, “There is not a teacher anywhere that is overpaid.” That drew applause from the room. 

He reminded the school board that, “Depending on what research you look at, Colorado funds K-12 between 42nd and 48th in the nation.”

At the end of the over-five-hour meeting, the CCSD school board authorized $985.5 million in total expenditures and appropriated reserves from all funds for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.