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New school roof, no increase in salaries

A new roof for the Pagosa Springs Elementary School will be installed this summer, it was announced during Tuesday’s meeting of the Archuleta School District 50 Jt. school board.

However, it was an anticipated revenue shortfall of around $300,000 for the 2012-2013 school year that appeared to provide the pivot for most of Tuesday’s discussion.

The issue of that budget cut was raised during a report by district superintendent Mark DeVoti following his announcement regarding the installation of the new roof.

Last month, the board approved filing an application for BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant money for the purpose of fixing the roof on the Pagosa Springs Elementary School.

Estimated to cost the district around $1 million, the proposed new roof would cover an existing roof that, ostensibly fixed in 2008, has been subject to numerous leaks throughout the years, a problem that eventually led to the growth of mold in the school.

The current roof is about to reach the end of its warranty.

In a letter circulated prior to Tuesday’s meeting, DeVoti wrote, “We will be putting a new roof on the elementary school this summer, at a cost of $400,000-$600,000 out of reserves depending on the success of our BEST Grant. The roof cost we can cover by utilizing saved revenues from one-time Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Funding. These are the funds we have utilized in the past few years to remain current in salary steps and to give small increase last fall. Using these funds for the roof, I anticipate a salary freeze for the 2012-13 school year.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, DeVoti added, “We will have to do an elementary school roof this summer, so the school will be closed to staff ... and we’ll hold summer school in the intermediate school.”

Stating that the near 3-to-1 vote against last year’s school bond proposal was a clear direction from the community to look for alternatives to building new facilities, DeVoti went on to add, “In another way we’re looking at addressing the needs of our district, we looked at all the shortcomings of our buildings ... so we’re looking at Honeywell and they’re currently working on an energy audit.”

Consultants Deborah Overbey and Kevin Taylor from Honeywell Building Solutions were at Tuesday’s meeting. Taylor told the board that he and Overbey would be looking at district facilities over the next several weeks, making a comprehensive assessment of energy efficiency in the different buildings and offering recommendations on various systems tied to energy use, as well as life-safety alerts (alarms and sprinklers).

Yesterday, DeVoti told SUN staff that those recommendations could include drilling geothermal wells on property purchased by the district adjacent to the high school for heating, cooling and air circulation. Furthermore, that drilling could lead to the construction of a geothermal plant for expanded heating, cooling and other energy needs throughout district facilities.

A report from Overbey and Taylor should be due for the board by next month. At next month’s board meeting (set for Thursday, April 12, due to scheduling conflicts), the district could be asked to consider a performance contract with Honeywell. DeVoti said yesterday that a performance contract could be spread over 10-20 years, if the district has funds for it, to pay for retrofitting facilities, as well as pursuing renewable energy solutions.

It was that proviso — if the district has funds — that appeared to provide an undercurrent to most of Tuesday’s discussions.

According to the letter circulated by DeVoti, revenue cuts anticipated over the next year would entail the district dipping into reserves in order to meet expenses.

In that letter, DeVoti explained, “In the past we have been successful by looking at every position which becomes open, and seeing if we can operate without it by shuffling existing staff. I expect us to continue this practice for this budget as well. It is a better alternative than cutting staff and putting unemployed people back into the economy while stressing those families and the community.

“In the past five years our student numbers have declined by over 150 students,” DeVoti’s letter went on to say, “and we must continue to adjust staffing where possible.”

Referring back to the expense of the new roof on the elementary school and the use of SRS to pay for it, DeVoti’s letter read, “Using these funds for the roof, I anticipate a salary freeze for the 2012-13 school year. When budgeting for the upcoming year, look at your actual spending for the 2010-11 school year (your principals have these numbers) and stay at or below that level. That practice, in addition to considering positions which open in the district and reducing where we can, should get us through this next budget.”

Throughout DeVoti’s letter and interspersed through his report on Tuesday night were sprinkled allusions to the failed bond initiative, clearly a frustration to him as the district struggles to meet expenses while paying for infrastructure needs that would not be included on the balance sheet were new facilities being built.

While neither DeVoti nor the board members directly addressed the desire to pursue another bond initiative, the possibility of another proposal loomed as, towards the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the board went into executive session to consider retaining a facilitator for future public engagement in how to deal with the district’s facilities.

After breaking from executive session, the board agreed to hammer out details and expenses for that facilitator, making it clear that public discussions would be taking place in the future.

With Colorado continuing to slash education funding, resulting in difficult financial decisions for the district, the issues of how to fund infrastructure improvements or repairs will continue to dominate board proceedings. Decisions to install a new roof on the elementary school and pursue more energy-efficient features in current facilities highlight the fact that, bond or no, the district will be required to address buildings that it claims have passed their utility.

jim@pagosasun.com

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