About 15 people at North Middle School in Colorado Springs used wireless hand-held devices Monday night to share their opinions on how School District 11 can save money.
It was the third of 11 public feedback sessions being held across the district through February. D-11 officials want ideas on how to cut $10 million to balance the budget for the 2012-2013 school year.
The audience used the devices to answer 15 questions posed by D-11 on a power point presentation. The questions asked where D-11 might spend more or less money.
"They said the time and place, and that there'd be an opportunity to provide some feedback," said Julie Satterlee. "I thought that was good. It behooves us to know what's going on. We don't have to wait for some umbrella solution from the district. What can we do ourselves?"
In recent years D-11 has struggled with decreasing state funds, rising expenses, declining enrollment -- partly in favor of neighboring Academy District 20 -- and a negative perception. Since 1996 the district has closed at least nine schools and received voter approval for two bond issues and two mill levy overrides.
Glenn Gustafson, the district's chief financial officer, said closing some schools next year is not an option because it's too late to prepare for it. He also said while asking voters for help is a possibility in November, officials are more likely to do that in the 2013-1014 school year.
Gustafson said student achievement is down, salary and benefits are not competitive with employees in other districts, maintenance and vehicle needs have fallen behind, and 89 percent of the budget is spent on employee costs.
The problems may seem overwhelming. But Angela Parlet, the district's PTA president with two kids in school, said parents shouldn't give up.
"It's not going to get any better if you leave," said Parlet. "You have to stay and fight the battle, and it's a long-term battle."
However, Gustafson said D-11 has been disappointed by low attendance at the sessions. But there have been a few surprises, he said.
"We've found that people would support some fee increases and support shifting dollars from a mill levy override to help with budget cuts," Said Gustafson.
For the schedule of remaining public feedback sessions, visit: http://www.d11.org/Business/budgetplanning/Documents/CommunityEngagementBudgetSessions.pdf
In a related matter, D-11 also is allowing the public to observe some of the contract negotiations with the teachers' union, the Colorado Springs Education Association. The current contract expires June 30, but Gustafson said D-11 hopes both sides will agree on a contract by the end of April.
The district calls the negotiations interest-based bargaining, a relatively new strategy which officials say allows both sides to meet in an atmosphere that is less confrontational. The year's first public session was held Monday night at the former Jefferson Elementary School.