Re-1 schools: Need for new revenues is desperate
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Proponents of a property tax increase for public schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs contend the downvalley school district has already tightened its belt as much as it can without hurting education.
Question 3E on the ballot in sections of Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties asks for a property tax increase to generate up to $4.8 million annually for the Roaring Fork School District No. RE-1.
The school district has cut $4 million from its budget over the last two years, according to Shannon Pelland, assistant superintendent of business services for the school district, and it lost a total of $5.1 million in state revenues. At this point, it looks like further erosion of funding from the state will require the district to cut another $3 million for the 2012-13 academic year, she said.
Education proponents say the property tax increase – technically known as a mill levy override – is needed to avoid a serious blow to the local education system.
“The impact if this doesn’t pass is going to be devastating to our education system,” Pelland said.
Proponents have launched a campaign committee called Vote For Our Kids. A central theme to the committee’s materials is that the district has already made tough economic decisions like everybody else during the recession and ongoing tough economic times.
Pelland said teachers’ salaries have been frozen since 2008, and teachers are taking a cut this year through furlough days. Fifteen teacher positions have been eliminated districtwide, mostly through attrition, and 65 other full- and part-time positions were eliminated. The vocational program was also eliminated.
“We’ve been fortunate we’ve been able to shield the classrooms,” said Matt Hamilton, campaign chair for the Vote For Our Kids committee. The next cuts, he said, “will go straight to the classrooms.”
That could require cutting some of the 360 teachers in the district, eliminating elective classes as well as art and music programs, and reducing bus service.
To put a $3 million cut in perspective, Pelland said that amount would equal pay for roughly 60 teachers. The $3 million is also about the same as the entire $2.6 million budget needed to run Basalt High School – everything from teacher salaries to utility bills, she noted.
Hamilton said the committee’s campaign approach stresses that education funding should be as important to families without kids as families with kids. Quality education is important regardless of whether it is your child, your neighbor and friend’s child or your grandchildren that are affected, Hamilton said.
Studies also show that quality schools are a magnet for communities. “A quality school system has a positive impact on your property value,” he said.
Pelland said the priority for the additional funds being sought will be to prevent further cuts and, when possible, restore areas that had been cut.
Comments submitted to the counties by supporters of the tax hike said approval will preserve small class sizes, attract and retain quality staff through higher compensation and allow purchases of up-to-date textbooks and materials.
“An economic downturn should not be allowed to have a life-long impact on our children,” proponents said in their comments.
No comments against the tax hike proposal were submitted for inclusion on the ballot information.
Because property values have declined so sharply, most residential taxpayers will still see a reduction in their school tax bill even if this tax hike proposal increases.
The school district’s board of education settled on asking for up to $4.8 million tax hike annually after lengthy deliberations. The amount can never exceed $4.8 million. The amount was determined, in large part, by looking at state forecasts for education spending.
State financing laws would have allowed the district to seek up to $11 million annually in higher property taxes. The board considered asking as little as $3 million annually, but that wouldn’t have restored losses made from prior cuts.
Hamilton called the $4.8 million a “realistic” rather than “pie-in-the-sky” amount of funding to be sought. The tax tolerance of property owners in the district also weighed in.
“It’s an extremely tough political climate,” Hamilton said. “We’re challenged as a state and it’s time for the local communities to step up.”
Ballots will be mailed Oct. 11 to persons on the active voter list. Residents can check their status at http://www.govotecolorado.org.
The website for the proponents of the tax increase is http://www.voteforourkids.org.
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