A message from Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser

I testified before the legislature a couple weeks ago on the even greater costs remote/rural districts like ours are encountering – such as greater supply and building costs (at $600 per square foot), transportation costs, and resource access costs. We are doing everything we can to increase salaries and wages and are at 87% of our budget being spent on salaries and wages, much higher than other districts, and this does create challenges in funding other areas, such as maintenance of our buildings. Salaries and wages have been increased almost 30% over the last few years. Combined with natural movement (increases each year based on points or steps), on average, salaries are up 50-60% since 2018. Even though we have the highest salaries in the region and among the highest in other mountain resort towns and comparable districts across the state, we know this is not enough to currently purchase a home in most of the City of Durango, so we are working with all of our community partners to explore other avenues for attainable housing.

Below are some updates in these areas.

Principal Financial Issues Facing the District

Loss of enrollment

One of the pressing concerns we are facing is the ongoing decline in enrollment. In the 2023-2024 academic year, we experienced a 2.7% decline, and projections indicate a further 4% decline, equivalent to 164 students, for the upcoming 2024- 2025 year. We continue to promote the great successes of our schools, students, and staff to draw enrollment in a competitive environment and also to encourage families to move to the Durango area.

Funding for deferred maintenance

The lack of adequate state funding for deferred maintenance poses a significant challenge. With minimal state support, we are compelled to allocate funds from our general budget, further straining our financial resources. This is why we are exploring a bond measure in the fall. The Board has received results from the bond survey, which were overwhelmingly positive in support of our schools and staff and direction, and will make a decision soon regarding next steps. As a reminder, a bond cannot be used to increase salaries and wages; however, this could free up general budget funds for salaries and wages.

Challenges with transportation

Our transportation department is grappling with staffing shortages and escalating charter-service costs. Additionally, serving rural areas entails higher operational costs, compounding our transportation challenges.

Cost of housing in Durango area

The exorbitant cost of housing, especially in the Durango city limits, exacerbates our financial pressures, making it increasingly difficult for our staff to afford housing within a reasonable proximity to our schools. As of March 2024, the median cost of a home in La Plata County was $660,000. While this, fortunately, is not approaching the costs of other similar districts, such as Summit County (which is at $1.1 million for median cost of a home), we know it is a heavy burden for those looking to purchase a home or to rent in the last few years. We are exploring several options, including a possible inclusion of employee housing on a bond measure. We are working with Fort Lewis College, other employers, as well as the City and County, in increasing the rental and home purchase options that would be available to our employees. These include new communities in the Three Springs, Florida Road, Twin Buttes, La Posta Road and other areas.


Legislation (Proposition FF) and other state mandates causing funding


The implementation of Proposition FF (Healthy Meals for All) has resulted in a current shortfall of $24 million, with projections indicating a potential deficit of $50 million. Additionally, universal preschool has been costly to our general fund. We also are facing unfunded energy reduction mandates. These legislative changes have profound implications for our budgetary allocations.


End of ESSER funding for certain programs/positions

The expiration of ESSER funding for specific programs and positions necessitates a strategic approach to sustain these vital initiatives within our district.


Projected 2024-2025 funding

Our finance department, led by Director of Finance, Kira Horenn, has worked through every department, school and expenditure area to fine-tune the budget and decrease costs. For the upcoming academic year, we anticipate a per-pupil revenue (PPR) of $11,405, representing a $2.4 million net increase in revenue projection. This $2.4 million additional revenue has been budgeted to the following:

  • $1,189,868.34 will go to the natural movement of salaries
  • $754,138.72 will go to the negotiated compensation package of a one-
  • time stipend of $808 to Licensed and Support Staff
  • Remaining $455,223 to address inflationary costs

As we navigate the complexities of budget development, I want to express my gratitude for your support of our district, our schools, and our staff. Together, we will continue to advocate for changes in state funding while striving to provide an exceptional educational experience for all.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our district's mission.