The Balancing Act between Funding and Operations

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Colorado legislators convened this week. Public schools throughout Colorado closely monitor the discussions regarding school finance. STEM School Highlands Ranch has one primary source of funding, per-pupil revenue or PPR. Colorado is one of the lowest funded PPR in the United States and slips further from the median each year. Suburban schools are the lowest funded in a low-funded state. Is this the year of reckoning to finally fund education at a level that meets basic needs?

Amie Baca is the Colorado Education Association president and has written extensively on the dire state of Colorado education funding. Although charter schools are not unionized, STEM meets or exceeds the Douglas County School District’s current payscale. The benefits package offered to STEM employees is rated in the top 95% nationally for educators as reported by the benefits provider.

Public schools throughout Colorado are trying their best to provide for employees, meet educational goals and stay in compliance with the complex web of federal and Colorado requirements with budgets stretched to the brink.

STEM never forgets its true north, which is Problem Based Learning. Application learning is the highest form of problem-solving. Collaboration around the latest technology keeps students engaged each and every day. In most traditional schools the teacher lectures, works on problems, and expects students to passively listen and take notes. At STEM, students expect to be active participants in learning.

Last school year, our teachers reported they needed help to design effective PBL around state and national standards. Members of the Leadership Team worked on creating a one-of-its-kind Teacher Support Program that now provides a K-5 and 6-12 PBL expert to work shoulder to shoulder with teachers in need of PBL support. Additionally, this team develops and implements our staff Professional Development Program to ensure that our staff is receiving the best support possible.

All of this requires us to leverage our limited funding to provide the very best educational program. It is our collective challenge as a Leadership Team, as a staff, as a school and as a community. Staffing decisions are under constant scrutiny. Each person has a different worldview and different values. STEM cannot possibly fund all of the wishes without infinite funding, With each new position created, funding must be identified.

Staffing decisions are made with careful and deliberate analysis. If there is a need for a position, members of the Leadership Team meet to discuss the impacts of trying to accommodate the need. Sometimes we are able to fulfill the need, and other times we are not.

It is a constant balancing act that requires all stakeholders to come to the table with a complete understanding of the full picture. We are very fortunate to have an expert CFO managing our finances and a very experienced and knowledgeable finance committee of our Board that provides additional oversight. Our School Accountability Committee is instrumental in helping to suggest and guide spending priorities based on our Unified Improvement Plan and community input.

Meeting or exceeding the DCSD pay scale is a challenging goal for 2022-23 because DCSD increased salaries with the hope of passing a Mill Levy Override. Until passed, DCSD plans to dip into their reserve. If the MLO does not pass, the new pay scale is not sustainable. STEM will match this new pay scale with the understanding that passing the MLO will be critical for future years.

Parents and students decide which school best meets their needs by enrollment. STEM funds one teacher with 25 students enrolled. STEM must meet parental and student expectations by providing excellent teachers. Attracting and retaining the best teachers requires a competitive salary and benefits package. We have one primary source of funding that is determined by the Colorado General Assembly and the Governor. We are all eager to see Colorado move from the bottom to at least the median in school funding for 2022-23.

Enjoy your three-day weekend and Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday,

P.J. Eucker PhD
Executive Director

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