MONTROSE — "Down to the penny," is the rallying cry from members of the Montrose School Board in their assurances of transparency to voters, who will decide on a mil levy override in November that would pay for school improvements.
During a board retreat Tuesday afternoon at the Bridges, the overall consensus was that the $2.9 million raised annually from the mil levy would go directly to classrooms and teachers to help improve academic achievement.
The board unanimously voted to place the mil levy override on the November ballot earlier this month.
The money would be used to hire 27 new teachers, provide each teacher with three additional professional development days per school year, and purchase new digital-learning technology for students.
Board member Seth Felix said it would "take a couple of years to definitely show results" from these improvements, given that the estimated time to initiate these changes would take at least a year.
The board will have to finalize the ballot language at least 60 days prior to the November election.
One of the district's goals is to align student achievement with state standards by 2015. Over the past three years, the district has seen gains in state test results, but in certain core areas the district is still slightly lagging behind.
Felix said the district should create annual reports to the public, if the mil levy is approved, to break down where new money is being spent, and how much of an effect the funds are having.
"We need to be as absolutely transparent as we possible can," District Superintendent Mark MacHale said.
Aging technology, crumbling infrastructure and added pressure on teachers for improved student outcomes has created a dire need for new financial support from voters, the board claims.
"I don't want to pay more taxes," Felix said. "But I understand the need.”
That understanding is what the district plans to communicate to the public as it begins a months-long campaign for levy approval.
The district is also waiting to see if Montrose schools would benefit from revenues from new marijuana taxes or if the state legislature will decide to pump more money back into schools in May.
MacHale said he and others from the district have traveled to Denver to have "conversations on the Senate floor" about increasing funding to schools.
"I would love to get a big chunk of change during our tenure," Board Member Phoebe Benziger said.
"The next couple of months are going to be really critical," added Board Member Tom West.
MacHale said restructuring efforts over the past few years has made the district more effective despite over $7.5 million in budget cuts since 2008.
During the discussion Tuesday, the board debated a number of options to improve conditions at Columbine Middle School, ranging from pursuing bond revenues to replacing the entire school to replacing the building one block of classrooms at a time, or even bringing back modular classrooms.
A portion of funds from the milllevy, if it is approved, would go toward some classroom renovations at Columbine. But the path to finding $15 million to replace the school is unclear.
"In a couple more years, it’s going to deteriorate," said Montrose District Building Supervisor Jason Arebalos.
Arebalos said replacing the school piece by piece, closing down hallways so new ones can be built, could have an affect on the public’s perspective of Montrose schools.
"And the question we're going to get is, why are kids going to school in a condemned building?" he said. "Why is part of that building condemned?”
Arebalos said certain areas of the school are deteriorating faster than others.
Assistant Superintendent Kirk Henwood said if the district can use funds wisely and practice "good stewardship" with the mil levy funds, the public might be willing to consider approving more money to replace the school: "That builds more confidence from our community."