APS ponders $40 million 2019 budget hike, fewer students and more challenging needs

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AURORA | With the 2018-2019 school year wrapped up, the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education, district staff and the Aurora Education Association are tackling big decisions on spending for the year ahead.

APS school board members will consider approving an expected $40 million increase in spending and a contract including teacher raises in their final meeting June 18.

This year, the district is relatively flush with cash but faces major challenges.

A districtwide decline in student enrollment and lopsided population growth favoring Aurora’s eastern flank are leaving educators with some less funding and hard choices to make about how to move Aurora students forward. Negotiations with the APS teacher union to overhaul the teacher salary system have been kicked to January, and charter schools are getting more funding from traditional district schools.

However, the larger budget proposal this year is a far cry from spending cuts effected two years ago because of a $31 million budget shortfall.

APS district staff presented a budget last week for the 2019-2020 school year that maps spending with an expected $36.2 million increase in the district’s general fund thanks to a voter-approved property tax increase and a boon in local property values, according to the presentation.

A voter-approved 2018 mill levy override boosted the fund by about $8.4 million, plus $8 million from state government to fund full-day kindergarten, which the district already provides.

Inflation and higher property values together added an approximate additional $21 million.

But APS is losing students at one of the highest rates of any school district in the state, reversing decades of growth.

That decline will rob APS of $6.3 million of funding attached to students.

The budget would also direct $30 million less to building construction – a decline of about one-fifth.

The net growth in the general fund enables the district to spend more than $869 million next year if school board members approve the budget, up from about $829 million this year.

The boon would benefit Pickens Technical College, a flagship career and technical center, with more than $1.2 million in additional funds.

Perhaps most importantly to district teachers and employees are raises. Advocates say more funds are essential to keeping school staff able to live in Aurora, a city where rents have risen more than any other major U.S. city since 2014, Sentinel Colorado reported in April.

The budget includes $18.7 million to raise salaries for all district staff.

Plus, the district proposed spending $8.5 million more for teacher salary increases. In January, all teachers regardless of experience received a 3 percent salary increase.

School board member Dan Jorgensen lauded more spending on teacher salaries, increased mental health staff in schools available thanks to the $35 million mill levy approval and more after-school programming.

“Given the poor state of education funding in Colorado, I believe the district is being as responsible and responsive as possible to meet the needs of all of our student,”Jorgensen told Sentinel Colorado.

School board member Kevin Cox said of the budget that “The most important thing is the 5A mill levy money and making sure we use that correctly.”

In part, that remains to be seen. As part of the agreement for Aurora Education Association union to support the mill levy increase, it agreed with APS to revise the so-called teacher salary schedule that determines exactly more much money a teacher will make with each level of experience and credentials.

Those negotiations will be kicked from a June 30 deadline to January 31, 2020.

However, AEA closed out negotiations with the district last month and chose a 2.05 percent salary increase to raise starting salaries for licensed staff from $42,500 to $43,371, according to district documents.

AEA President Bruce Wilcox did not respond to a request for comment.