School officials: Big trouble if referendums fail
September 20, 2005
Forget the oinking pigs and talking heads on TV. Roaring Fork School District officials say referendums C and D are serious business that could determine teacher salaries and class sizes for students in the Roaring Fork Valley.On Nov. 1, Coloradans will vote on the referendums, which will allow the rollback of some provisions of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, for five years. Under Referendum C, if it passes, taxpayers won’t receive their annual refund of extra tax dollars the state doesn’t use, as TABOR mandates. The state will keep the money and spend it on education, transportation, and fire and police pensions. If Referendum D is approved, it will allow the state to borrow more than $2 billion for transportation projects, public school and higher education buildings and local fire and police pensions. It would take effect only if Referendum C passes. Re-1 Superintendent Fred Wall said the failure of referendums C and D would force the district to create larger classes and prevent it from giving teachers raises. He called it “the domino effect” of the district being unable to pay teachers enough to keep up with the high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley. Wall said he’s afraid the state will be unable to fund public education under Amendment 23, a Colorado constitutional amendment passed in 2000, which requires the state to increase its spending on public education for 10 years at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent. “What that means is they’re going to have a tough decision,” Wall said, referring to state legislators. “They’re not going to be able to fund that amendment. If they do, other services will erode even more,” such as the state’s roadways, colleges and universities. Tuition hikes possibleRoaring Fork school board President Susan Hakanson said she supports the referendums because if they fail, she said, it will mean budget cuts for the district and a devastating spike in college tuition for high school graduates. She said she heard Western State College in Gunnison could drastically raise its tuition next year instead of slashing programs. “That has a huge impact on K-12 education,” she said. But a gigantic spike in tuition “sounds like doomsday,” said Larry Meredith, Western State College director of public relations.”We have to raise tuition significantly,” he said. “Nobody’s talking percentages yet.”Higher education impactsIf C and D fail, Meredith said, it will force the college to cut $3.3 million from its budget, more than 40 percent of what the state contributes today. Though he said he hasn’t a clue where program cuts would be made, “it would be in many areas.” What’s more, he said, were C and D to fail, the price tag on a degree at Western could eventually match that of out-of-state colleges.It’s unclear how the referendums would affect Colorado Mountain College, but the failure of C and D will surely mean budget cuts, said CMC President Bob Spuhler, who said he supports C and D. CMC gets only about 10 percent of its budget from the state, which might makes it easier for the school to absorb any loss in funding, he said. Where cuts would be made will be up to the school’s board, Spuhler said, but he speculated they could be in equipment purchases, not in staffing. He said keeping the school affordable is CMC’s top priority, adding that the board has been emphatic about maintaining CMC’s accessibility for people of all income levels. Governor candidate disagreesFor Roaring Fork school board member Brad Zeigel, detractors of C and D who say the referendums amount to a tax increase that will prevent families from getting their rightfully earned money are being “selfish” and “shortsighted.””If you believe in a common good, you believe in public schools,” Zeigel said. “I support taxation.”Though Zeigel said he credits the district’s good management for keeping its books in the black with its current level of funding, Republican gubernatorial candidate and fierce C and D foe Marc Holtzman said Monday that any school district complaining it will lose money if C and D fail just isn’t managing its money wisely. Holtzman, who has a home in Carbondale, said the Roaring Fork School District’s state funding is guaranteed because the state is required by law to fund Amendment 23. He said if he were elected governor, he’d try to get a proposal on the ballot that would guarantee 65 percent of a school’s budget is spent “in the classroom” by shifting “$420 million a year into teacher salaries, after-school programs without raising taxes.”He suggested suspending Amendment 23 in times of recession and said proponents of Amendment C are only assuming the state would have to make $400 million in cuts. “The number’s going to be $200 million,” he said. He said Wall’s concerns about the referendums are “scare tactics” and “shameful politics” similar to those former Gov. Roy Romer allegedly used to oppose TABOR.Questions?State Rep. Kathleen Curry and Rep. Gregg Rippy will discuss November ballot items referendums C and D at a forum from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday in the Glenwood Springs City Council chambers.