Danger, Will Robinson… danger! Ed News Colorado today brings our attention to the latest edition of the state education department’s “Fiscal Health Analysis of Colorado School Districts.” Agency workers take a look at five key indicators to see if a school board is undertaking risks that lead a district into financial stress.
This year, 48 of 178 Colorado school districts earned at least one of the five warning lights — which are based on careful looks at things like assets, expenditures, fund balances, and debt. Nine of the 48 districts picked up two indicators. Two of the nine districts earned two indicators for the second straight year: Jefferson County and Trinidad.
But Jeffco, the state’s largest school district, stands alone in having multiple fiscal health indicators for three consecutive years (only Trinidad and tiny Hoehne Reorganized 3 had even one indicator throughout that time span).
Given the unique three-year trend, the shrill alarm that concludes CDE’s report seems to be crescendoing in Jefferson County:
Financial trend analysis is an important analytical tool because it serves as an early warning system for the Department, the school districts, and citizens to use to identify areas of concern. The analysis allows the Department and school district officials to take prompt remedial action when there is an indication of financial stress. If a district does not take appropriate action, the financial health of the district could go into further decline and may ultimately cause a district’s accreditation to be compromised.
I don’t know if Will Robinson lives in Jeffco. But the Colorado Department of Education report notes the district has explained “that it strategically built up reserves in prior years with the intention of spending down the reserves.” Jeffco is also one of eight districts insisting “that they were experiencing the effects of the reduction in state school finance funding,” which has driven down the fund balance.
No word concerning the impact made on Jeffco’s coffers by last year’s passage of a $39 million mill levy and a $99 million construction bond. Voting majorities approved the new local tax revenues despite household incomes being squeezed considerably harder than school budgets. Where are those funds going, and what will be the result for the district’s financial health?
What exactly the unwelcome three-time distinction means for Colorado’s largest school district remains to be seen. For the sake of students and taxpayers, this much remains clear: The news should further raise serious questions about the current course Jeffco is taking.