Letter: Chatfield school has many positive attributes, but concerns are ahead

Greetings,

With the holiday season upon us and the New Year around the corner, I want to take a moment to extend my gratitude to the community for its support of what we do, to the staff for their ongoing dedication, and to the students for their hard work and achievements!  Without these three pillars of excellence, we would not be able to showcase some of the following highlights from the 2019 school year. Highlights include the community/school collaboration with the pool project, completion of high school remodel project, expansion of grant supported STEM opportunities, increased school safety awareness and building modifications, and countless student academic and activity achievements.

Here in Chatfield, we are fortunate to have numerous positive attributes to showcase.  However, we also need to focus on some of our concerns, the primary one being our ongoing budget deficit. Without consistent monitoring and ongoing adaptations, our ongoing budget concern will become increasingly problematic and detrimental to our school district.

This past spring, the administration was able to make significant budget reduction progress and balance the budget for the time being.  However, our multi-year financial outlook shows a growing budget shortfall trend that will need to be stabilized as stagnant/declining enrollment continues to lessen revenues while annual inflationary costs grow. 

To stabilize the financial future, the school district requested additional revenue from the community with an operating levy election on Nov. 5.  As you know, the request was denied.  Financial difficulties for schools are not only a problem for Chatfield.  On Nov. 5, 43 other school districts across the state had operating levy elections.  Of those, 37 passed.  Some were renewals, some were increases. The subject of operating levies will need to be addressed again with our community within the next year or two.  In the meantime, the board will be considering budgetary next steps.  Please know that during that process, we will remain sensitive to what will best serve our students and the community.

Many community members have asked, “Why do you need more money after the bond referendum passed for the high school project?”   The money provided for the high school bond referendum can only be used for costs related to the construction project.  By law, construction funds approved by the community cannot be used to support the general budget which is where our financial concerns lie.  There is a clear separation between these funds.  So much so that even if the high school project never happened, we would still be in the same financial situation.  The Nov. 5 request for more revenue from an increase in the operating levy would have supported the general fund, which is the source of funding for everything related to regular operations, teaching, learning, and activities.

As we move into 2020, I hope we can reflect on where we were, acknowledge what was accomplished, and strive for what may be.  “The future depends on what we do in the present”… Mahatma Gandhi.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Amy Jeffers

Chatfield School Board chairperson