Measure would raise $700K for schools | AspenTimes.com

Measure would raise $700K for schools

John Colson

When Aspen School District voters step into the polling booths Nov. 1, one of the ballot questions they’ll face is whether to allow the district to collect an additional $700,000 per year in tax revenues.Referendum 3A would add a little more than 0.4 mills to the district’s tax rate starting next year, bringing the tax rate for Aspen’s schools to 9.379 mills. On a $1 million house, that equals an increase of $39 per year in taxes, according to school district officials.The money from the mill levy override would be strictly for operating costs – which include everything from teacher salaries to the restoration of advance language courses to a predicted jump in the price of gas and diesel to run the district’s fleet of buses and cars.The $700,000 would amount to less than 5 percent of the district’s proposed $15.1 million operating budget for the coming year, but district officials say it will make a significant difference in critical areas. According to Superintendent Diana Sirko, the district has had to cut more than $996,000 from its annual budget over the past couple of years due to a budget squeeze caused by state finance restrictions, including the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), and shortfalls in the budgetary fix known as Amendment 23, which the state’s electorate passed in 2000.The TABOR law has limited state and local governments’ ability to raise taxes or increase spending over the years. By the end of the 20th century, state and local officials concluded school funding was not keeping up with the rate of inflation, much less with the needs of the schools.Amendment 23 was intended to make up for losses in school district revenues, at least partially, by requiring the state to increase funding to schools by the rate of inflation plus 1 percent each year for a decade. State funding has made up an increasingly critical portion of school finances over the past 15 years as a consequence of the budgetary squeeze created by TABOR and other tax regulations.But according to school officials, Amendment 23 fell short of its goal. Because budgetary restrictions were squeezing the state in other areas, school officials say the funds sent to the districts never lived up to expectations. That, officials maintain, left school districts the choice of cutting programs, slashing salaries or personnel, or going to the voters for a tax increase.This is the second such proposal by the Aspen School District. According to Bill Anuszewski, the district’s finance director, voters approved a mill levy override in 2000 that pumped an additional $1.1 million into school programs.Amendment 23 allows districts to ask for such tax hikes based on increases in enrollment, such as the Aspen district has been experiencing in recent years, Anuszewski said.But, he continued, because the district is nearing its maximum capacity in terms of student population, it is likely that this year is the last time such a tax hike will be proposed under current laws.Editor’s note: A second ballot question, Referendum 3B, deals with a proposal to replace the aging Aspen Middle School building, and make certain improvements to the Aspen Elementary School, through the sale of $33 million in general obligation bonds. That is a separate question, unrelated to the mill levy override.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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