MONTROSE – New state tax legislation, which passed last week, has Montrose and Olathe School District officials re-examining district funding plans to improve technology and school performance by suspending a campaign to generate millions locally this November.
The district had aimed for $3.288 million this fall through either a voter supported mil levy or sales tax increase. But with the passage of Senate Bill 213, the Future School Finance Act, drafted to produce $1.1 billion for school districts through state tax dollars, officials here said asking voters to pass a statewide tax at the same time raising local taxes was not the right approach.
"I'm not sure we want to go to the voters with the district's plan while the state has a tax increase for schools on the ballot," Superintendent Mark MacHale said at Tuesday's school board meeting. "It could be viewed as a double whammy on our taxpayers which is something we don't want to do.
MacHale said the district's contingency plan is to "wait and see" until the district examines the language within the bill and know where the $1.1 billion would come from.
"No one knows for sure until the ballot language comes out if it will have a chance in passing," MacHale said.
He praised lawmakers for being more focused on education in the state but said the bill contained problems, saying it was a "shame" the state's largest districts will receive the most money.
"For our district my concerns aren't huge,” he said. “My primary concern with the bill is that it doesn't give me a guarantee that the money is going to continue. It's very difficult to run a school district when you don't know year to year how much money you’re going to get.”
Over the past several years Montrose school district has slashed $7 million from its budgets, which has created large class sizes, some with 35 and 40 students using outdated classroom technology.
If voters approve the finance act this fall, MacHale said the action does not address the long-term needs facing the district. Previously, he said, revenue from SB 213 would amount locally to $1,100 to $1,200 per student adding the figure is more of a,"basement number," as he expects the figure could be higher.
"We will get an increase, but it will not get us back to before when all of this ($7 million in cuts) happened," MacHale said. "If it (SB 213) does pass it is certainly a valued asset for us, if it doesn't pass we're right back to where we started from and we'll have solve it locally. It would probably be a year out for us to solve our own issues.
Proponents of the bill said the funding would "modernize" the way education is funded and refocus resources equitably for all students across the state including rural schools.
Critics said the bill does "nothing of the sort" and pressures school districts into increasing their mill levies, which leads to raised local property taxes.
“As it stands now, the school finance formula is outdated. It was crafted before any of us used internet, email, or cell phones. We need a formula that’s aligned with our 21st century needs. Within the past five years, K-12 education suffered nearly $2.5 billion in cuts. Now is the time to reinvest and achieve greater adequacy, equity, and sustainability in our education system,” said Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) a former school principal and SB213's sponsor said following the Senate's passage in last month.
Senate Republicans fired back stating a, "student centered system that emphasizes improving student outcomes and instilling teacher accountability," would better help statewide schools, "instead of perpetuating the present system that merely asks for more money without solving the problem.”
Senator Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley) the ranking member of the Senate Education Committee and current board member of a charter school said all students, "deserve an equal education.
“Instead of a proposed billion dollar tax increase and incentivizing districts to raise their mil levies, we need an education bill that prioritizes the rights of students, whether that student is a charter school student or a traditional public school student. Failing our kids is no longer an option," Renfroe said.
The bill cleared both houses on a party-lined vote.
While students, locally enjoy the summer vacation, MacHale said the district and members of the Community School Improvement Team, CSIT, will pour over the language to determine a course of action.
Third Graders Improving Reading Proficiency
New numbers released from Tuesday's meeting show Montrose third graders are improving in reading proficiency.
State numbers show 73 percent of third-graders scored proficient or advanced in reading in 2013 TCAP reading scores. That number is down roughly a percentage point from last year and is close to equal to scores from two years ago.
Montrose tested at 69.5 percent, nearly seven percent higher than two years ago, according to Laurie Pascoe who delivered the report to the board of education.
"It feels good to say that," Pascoe said, adding the upward trend is in line with the district's goals of being at or above the state average by the 2014-2015 school year.
Highlighted was Northside Elementary whose reading score jumped from 55 to 60 percent and Olathe Elementary who rose from 49 to 63 percent.
In a related subject, Pascoe said a new summer reading program, which opens school libraries throughout the summer will "reduce summer regression," and keep kids from falling "farther and farther behind" when returning from the long summer break.
Tamara Richard, the district's summer reading coordinator, said the district is working more closely with the Montrose Regional Library to provide reading programs focused on both students and families.
The program will begin May 21 at each school site where students will be sent home with a summer reading log and reading material.
"So many of our kids don't even have a book in their homes," MacHale said.
In addition to summer reading activities at the library, elementary and middle school libraries will be open one day week. Incentives and prizes will be available for students who turn in a completed reading log.
"The teachers are pumped the kids are pumped," Richard said.
For more information about the program and library times visit www.mcsd.org, ormontroselibrary.org.