Getting behind 3A, 3B

Bob Johnson

While the Basalt citizens who have come together to support the RE-1 ballot questions appreciate getting the endorsement of The Aspen Times for the Roaring Fork bond issue question (3B) and the mill levy override question (3A), I want to address a few statements made in the endorsement that, after a casual reading, may lead voters to some misperceptions about the district.

First, the planning for the current $86 million bond issue has, in fact, been extensive and involved significant citizen input over the past two years. The same was true back in 1992 in preparing for the $37 million 1993 bond election.

Each planning process began with a “wish list” that was larger than the ultimate amount put before voters. As the Times noted, the $86 million that voters will decide next week was cut back from an initial $122 million, largely in an effort to keep the tax impact manageable for residential and commercial property owners in the district.

Likewise, in 1993 the facility planning committee, again with citizen input, put together a wish list of $45 million in school facility needs. That list was pared back to $37 million, because at the time $37 million represented the state-allowed maximum debt issuance amount.

Virtually the entire $37 million bond was devoted to adding classroom space to hold a mushrooming student population that increased by 1,433 students (almost 50 percent) over an eight-year period from 1986 through 1994. Nongrowth-related facility issues, understandably, had to take a back seat to providing classroom space for new students. Basalt received $16.6 million from the $37 million bond, including a new high school and improvements at the middle school.

In the current bond, Basalt Elementary (parts built when FDR was president) will be fixed up and expanded, and more classroom space will be added to Basalt High so that the arts programs can be brought up to acceptable space standards. Equally important, the 3B ballot question specifically includes the words “AND THE COMPLETION OF HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC FIELDS, IN THE BASALT ATTENDANCE AREA,” ensuring that the “Field of Dreams” will be completed.

Second, the Roaring Fork School District has a long heritage of academic excellence. In an article titled “Re-1 Rates a Gold Star in State Accreditation” printed in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on April 19, Morris Daniels, field representative from the Colorado Department of Education said, “We have found some of the strongest district leadership in this school district in the state, which is providing the district with some rather dramatic improvements in student achievement.”

To suggest otherwise does a disservice to the students who have achieved many academic successes in our schools that are led by strong administrators. A small sample of these student successes include:

– Glenwood Springs students winning the Colorado Mock Trial competition and placing at the National Mock Trial Competition.

– Roaring Fork High students placing second in state speech contests, and recently had two Boettcher scholars.

– Bridges High students publishing in professional math journals.

– Basalt students becoming regional champions in math contests.

And finally, it is important to remember that the RE-1 school property tax rate has declined by almost 40 percent since the last bond election. That decline resulted from a huge increase in the RE-1 property tax base since the mid-’90s. That means residential property tax bills on the RE-1 tax bill portion have been declining since 1995, even as our home values have gone up.

A $200,000 home that has doubled to $400,000 since 1995 will still have a RE-1 property tax bill $100 lower than it was in 1995, even after 3A and 3B pass. Also, the larger property tax base allows the district to make the improvements to our schools that quite simply were only a “dream” in 1993, when state law stopped us from making improvements to aging schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

As the Times noted in its editorial last week, “the district appears to have done its homework in preparing these companion measures for the ballot.” I think the FACTS presented above support the Times endorsement. That’s why I encourage RE-1 voters to join me in voting YES ON 3A and 3B for: OUR VALLEY, OUR KIDS, OUR FUTURE.

Bob Johnson is co-chair of the Basalt-area campaign for Citizens For Investing In RFSD Kids.