The school district initiative will be listed as Initiative 3A on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“We have concluded that the monies from the mill levy override request will help us to best prepare for the future,” school board President Banks Brown said in a statement released following the unanimous decision Sept. 6. “Passage of 3A will allow us to continue to grow and improve as a District.”
School officials say a number of factors went into their decision to ask taxpayers for the mill levy override but decreased funding from the state, along with increasing student enrollment, are at the top of the list.
Since last year, the school district has added over 100 new students across four schools, with more than 50 students joining the district in August. Enrollment is now at a record high at 787 students.
Since 2009, however, officials say the district has lost nearly $2.8 million in funding from the state; for the current school year, the state will under-fund the district by $1,697 per student.
“With a substantial decrease in state funding and as schools continue to grow, the conversation started with the community on what direction it is we want the school to go,” Superintendent Kyle Schumacher said. “We want to have globally competitive students and remain a top school in Colorado and nationally. The question is, how do we ensure our students receive those things? We are going to have to have new revenue sources.”
State law allows local school districts to ask voters for an override of up to 25 percent of their total funding. Based on current enrollment in the district, the board would be authorized to ask voters for almost $1 million in additional funding. However, the Board has concluded that a more conservative request for $800,000 in 2013-14 would meet the current and future needs of the district.
The mill levy override will ask the voters to approve a 1.0 mill increase in taxes. If the mill levy override passes in November, the district estimates the cost to taxpayers with a residence with a fair market value of $500,000 will be $39.40, and for a commercial building of the same value the cost will be $143.55 per year.
Last year, San Miguel County was one of the only counties in Colorado that supported a statewide tax increase for education, but that ultimately failed statewide. Schumacher is hopeful residents will once again support a tax increase for education, but this time the money will stay in the school district.
“That mill increase would have passed here,” he said. “If this one passes, all of this money stays local and will be going back to the kids in this school district.”
Still, to soften the blow of a tax increase during this slowly improving economy, the school district will be retiring two bonds, one earlier than anticipated, in December. In total, the two bonds represent 2.5 mills. By retiring these bonds, district officials estimate a result in savings of $102.28 for taxpayers who own a residence with a fair market value of $500,000. For commercial owners with the same fair market value the savings would be $372.65.
“The bonds we are retiring were sold to build a building, and it’s a total of 2.5 mills for both of those,” he said. “A mill levy is for operating costs and educational services. It is an ongoing cost but at a much lesser amount.”
District officials estimate the combined effect of the tax cut and the mill levy override would reduce taxes next year by approximately $63.00 on a $500,000 home and $229.00 on a commercial property of the same value.
If the November ballot initiative is approved by voters, the district will allocate $290,000 to attract and retain effective teachers, improve classroom teaching skills, and implement ways to measure teacher effectiveness; $240,000 for technology improvements; $140,000 for hands-on learning opportunities such as mentoring programs, language learning programs and partnerships with local nonprofit agencies; and $130,000 for capital improvements and maintenance.
Schumacher said that funding will not only go toward retaining effective teachers, but also to further teachers’ professional development.
“We are looking at how to continue to offer professional development so teachers can continue to grow,” Schumacher said. “Students are continuing to gain new skills in content areas, and a big portion of that is also providing teachers with a work environment and up-to-date tools, supplies and buildings that can adapt to the changing needs of education.”
As for capitall improvements and maintenance, Schumacher said monies garnered from the mill levy override would rebuild the district’s capital reserve fund that has been depleted over recent years. From there, improvements like replacing the aging boiler at the Elementary School would be possible as well as repairing damage to various buildings and improving open space within schools.
“These monies will be focused on directly improving the education our students receive in the classrooms,” Schumacher said. “The hiring, retention, and training of highly effective teachers will lead directly to higher educational achievements by students. Further, appropriate use of technology, and the training to utilize it effectively, is an important trend in education. As a District, we’ve slipped a little behind the curve in this area and this mill levy override will allow us to make up some ground. Through the use of technology, and a flexible approach to curriculum and space planning, we are able to fully utilize our space in a more effective manner while increasing learning opportunities for our students.”