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Projections show budget shortfall for school district in Farmington

The Farmington School District is getting a head start on developing a 2013-14 budget that finance director predicts could fall short by more than $1 million. It would be the first in a series of budget shortfalls that finance director Carl Colmark predicts could reach $4.6 million by the 2016-17 school year if nothing changes.

"We're going to have a continuing and growing financial problem over the next five years," Colmark said.

The current projections assume there will be no change in state funding to school districts.

Colmark brought his budget projections to board members on Monday, earlier than usual, because he wants additional time to examine the budget and talk with the community about ways to make it balance.

The process Colmark proposed will include community input forums to be scheduled before Nov. 9, a review of budget parameters Nov. 26 and board approval of budget parameters by Dec. 10.

Before that happens, Colmark said he wants to hear from residents what they see as priorities in the district's budgeting process. He wants to know where they think cuts can be made, and what areas they believe should not be touched.

Colmark started that process at a Monday night school board work session by asking board members what they thought should be protected as the district considers cuts.

Nearly all board members identified small class sizes as a top priority.

"I am uncomfortable with 37 fourth graders in a classroom, which is what I heard about from one of our neighbors," board chair Tera Lee said.

Board members also suggested Colmark look for opportunities to partner with the private sector to find savings and look to other districts for ideas on improving district processes.

There has been talk in the past about the district working with the city of Farmington on partnerships to save money.

"There's so many rocks to overturn," board member Brian Treakle said.

Board members mostly rejected the idea of asking the community to fund a new operating levy to help cover district expenses. Board member Tim Burke worried that additional taxes could hurt homeowners who are still struggling to pay their mortgages.

"The housing values are just starting to come back," Burke said. "Any additional burden on taxpayers is going to put people over the edge."

There was a mixed response to the idea of using some of the district's $1.8 million fund balance - a rainy-day fund set aside for emergencies - to soften the impact of the budget shortfalls. Some board members were OK with the idea of using that money in the short term while the district figures out longer-term solutions. Others worried about reducing the district's safety net.

"There may come a time when we wish (the fund balance) was there," Treakle said. "We'd have to have a darn good reason to use it."

Colmark plans to schedule public-input sessions soon.