Embezzlement of funds, school wide corruption, and mismanagement of pay… Fossil Ridge High School is full of problems, and these are not among them. I have heard many rumours over the years, and decided to conduct my own research into the school’s financing. I worked with the school bookkeeper, acquired financial documents, and even interviewed Dr. Julie Chaplain herself, and I found no evidence to support these baseless claims.
In an effort to explain the school’s finances, I will cover a variety of topics, ranging from the school’s bank accounts, student based budgeting, and general lack of funding people are so confident is being abused.
There are two types of accounts that the school uses to organize funds, the general accounts, and the PSA accounts. The PSA accounts are used to store funds collected from fees on a department level. While the general accounts are used mainly for staffing, according to Dr. Chaplain, only about 350,000 dollars are leftover to pay for equipment and other department expenses. Another hot topic are class fees, which are not used for new equipment; instead they go towards project materials and online programs that are determined by the department heads. For instance, the chemistry workbook belongs to the student; when you give money to the school, they buy the book on behalf of the student. In fact, students can acquire licenses and materials on there own if they do not wish to provide the school money. The school is not collecting the funds and using them to fund class materials or course work. Dr. Chaplain clarified in the interview that “the reason that students pay fees is for everything that they use, like a consumable”.
The Art Department has the largest number of fees for classes in the building, and taking a look at their PSA accounts, I found that while some classes like Studio Art History had no carryover into the 2018-2019 school year, Design had 2,632 dollars. This would suggest that some classes do in fact profit from the fees, and raises the question whether or not those funds should be spread among the other classes. This did raise my eyebrows at first, raising questions about what exactly this extra money was being spent on. But in a conversation with Amy Spencer, the school bookkeeper, I learned that the school’s theatre program is actually allowed to profit from the play, and often have leftovers used in the production of the next one. While they might be the only department allowed to do so, the precedent is still there.
It is well known that the school does not get much money, but in my talk with Dr. Chaplain and documents from Spencer, I found out just how little funding the school gets. The budget attached above may seem impressive at first: 136 million in student based budgeting, and a total of 286 million dollars total for the district. Over a quarter-billion dollars, but when you consider that there are 52 schools, and Fossil only seeks to spend about nine million dollars total throughout the building, and about 90 percent of that goes into school staffing, there is almost nothing leftover. Furthermore, a large portion of that budget is going into the construction of a new high school near Timnath, which also turns out to be a double-edged sword. While it will alleviate our overcrowded school, which according to Dr. Chaplain struggles with seating, it will also decrease the amount of money Fossil gets from student based budgeting. Three percent of the budget also goes into an emergency fund, in case the state needs to take back some money. Yes, sometimes Colorado, a state with some of the worst school funding in the country, has to take back money some years.
Continuing with this lack of money, Dr. Chaplain actually has to save funds every year to pay for larger projects and replace equipment. The speaker system which so often makes our ears bleed in the gym is original… sixteen years old. At this point they are basically archaic; it is no wonder people cannot hear anything in the overcrowded gym with a more than subpar speaker system. To emphasize just how pathetic Colorado’s school funding is, according to Colorado Legislative Council Staff, Colorado generally ranks 39th-47th in school funding. That means in recent years, we were third to last in school funding in the country.
But there may still be hope, the district recently approved a bond for teacher salaries that will run for years. This should increase the amount of money available for the school to spend on students, and possibly allow the addition of more school events.