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Ed Center deals with diminished funding

Staff Writer

Despite a request made by Archuleta County Education Center board member Dave Richardson on Nov. 21 for $25,000 to help fund the organization during the next year ($25,000 was the amount the center received in 2012), the Pagosa Springs Town Council approved its 2013 budget with a zero on the line item for ACEC.

“They are not included in the budget for the coming year, for 2013,” Town Manager David Mitchem confirmed in a later interview. “We did fund them this year (2012). I know the Ed Center is looking at their options, and it is a great group of people. They do a great service for the community, and we value them. That’s evident because we funded them the last couple of years and have really tried to grow that partnership.”

However, at the town council’s Dec. 6 work session where they hammered out the details of the 2013 budget in preparation for the Dec. 13 meeting where it was approved, Mitchem said, “Part of the reason we have funded it in the last couple years is on the promise that we would see movement and expansion there, and through either their fault or Pueblo Community College’s fault, they just haven’t had the movement we anticipated, so I put it in as a zero.”

“I think if we are going to use the primary consideration of job creation and growth of the business for economic development organizations,” council member Volger added, “Then the Ed Center didn’t grow the way it was anticipated to this last year, and I don’t see it doing that this year. There seems to be so much turmoil there right now. I don’t know, but I think there is a possibility it could be closing its doors.”

“We’re not just going to throw twenty-five grand at it to see what happens,” council member Darrel Cotton chimed in, “I don’t think we should necessarily budget it, but it should be available if they come up with a viable plan. In my mind, if it comes to it, we do a budget adjustment. It’s kind of a backwards way of doing things. I don’t want to abandon them, but at the same time, I don’t want to throw money at a sinking ship.”

“The program itself, and the concept, is good,” council member Tracy Bunning agreed, “but whether or not they can produce at this point in time by getting a community college in here or the ability to have community college classes is something that we have a responsibility to try and encourage.”

During his Nov. 21 presentation to town council, Richardson explained the true root of the problem, “Our expenses are slightly up, but our income is way down. The big issue that we have is in after-school tutoring. That’s the only program we have that has no revenue associated with it. If we don’t get funding to cover that, we will have to cut that program, and that will be a real hardship on a lot of kids. That explains the short-term problem we have.

“The long-term problem we have is we have been unable to continue to raise enough money to run the organization. There are two reasons for that. One is grant money is a lot harder to come by now than it used to be.

“The other reason is, once upon a time (four years ago and before), the school district allocated some fifty to sixty students to our alternative high school. When the students come they bring with them their PPOR (the amount of money the state provides for each student). That money can be used for both the direct program expense, and also for the operating expense of the facility; grant money can’t, so we used that money to run our facility, just like the school district does.

“Now we only get three to four students, and the PPOR for those students doesn’t begin to cover our expenses for the facility.”

Later, at the Dec. 6 work session, when Cotton asked what happened to the kids that Archuleta School District 50 Joint had been sending to ACEC for the alternative high school program, and Mitchem responded that the district has been trying to keep them at Pagosa Springs High School, which is what the Pirate Achievement Center was designed to do, Bunning asked if it might be a turf war.

“I don’t know,” Mitchem hedged, “It was a monetary decision. Let’s put it that way. Actually, the two organizations get along nicely. There was a time when they didn’t, but I think they get along fine right now. The district just elected to keep that money in the district.”

“Quite honestly, I think it was originally a way to get rid of the trouble-making kids from the high school,” Bunning said. “Just ship them down there to the alternative high school.”

Town Clerk April Hessman and council member Kathie Lattin both suggested that Goal Academy, the online alternative high school located in the Country Center Plaza, may also offer competition to the Ed Center.

In the later interview, Mitchem speculated, “In their planning to move forward, the Ed Center established a relationship with the Pueblo Community College, and because of some internal strife at PCC, that partnership hasn’t blossomed as rapidly as hoped. Last semester, because of staff turnover at PCC, the Ed Center was not permitted to advertise the classes until four days before the classes began, so that limited their financial success.”

“The Education Center has seen a lot of evolution and over the course of the years the emphasis has shifted,” Julie Loar, the new director of operations, explained. “Up until just a year or two ago, the most heroic effort, and the one the Ed Center was most known for, was the alternative high school, but we are no longer doing that directly. We partner with Pueblo Community College, and they offer the same drop-out recovery program that they offer throughout the PCC district; it is just held here. We have a close relationship with the school district and they refer students to the program.”

“It is really unfortunate,” ACEC board chairperson Lisa Scott added. “We did such a good job with that alternative high school program and with keeping kids involved. Funding was just such a big issue. It costs a lot to educate the kids on both ends of the spectrum. Well, it costs a lot to educate any kid, but to educate special needs kids and kids that are at risk is a real challenge, and we did a great job and had a great program here for the kids that didn’t fit into the traditional high school model.”

Per Pupil Revenue (PPR) is the amount of total program funding from property taxes, specific ownership taxes, and state equalization that ASD50Jt receives for each full time student. That amount is $6,548.35. Scott explained that, even at its peak, when the Ed Center was taking on 50-60 students per year for its alternative high school program, ASD50Jt was only passing along 65 percent of that money and keeping the rest for itself.

Now, with only a handful of students getting referred from the district during the last five years (since the Pirate Achievement Center was started at the high school), the Ed Center has seen a $25,000 shortfall every year. While this is the amount of money they had asked for from town council, and were denied, it is also approximately how much it costs to run the after-school tutoring program without charging the students.

Loar and Scott explained that, without donations from some other source, the free after-school tutoring program would have to be cut. However, when presented with the above comments from the town council members, Loar and Scott both emphatically denied there is any chance they will go out of business. They will still offer the GED program, ESL classes, community enrichment classes, and the post-secondary program, all of which generate their own revenue.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on December 20, 2012.