CARBONDALE — The Roaring Fork School District Re-1 stands to see about $4 million in additional funding, mostly to support full-day kindergarten and extra preschool slots, under a state ballot initiative that will go before Colorado voters in November.
However, the Re-1 school board says it needs to hear more about the benefits of the state school finance reform measure, known as Ballot Initiative 22, and the potential extra costs to the district in the long run if it passes, before taking a stand on the issue.
Especially after Re-1 district voters were convinced two years ago to approve a $4.8 million mill levy override to help offset state budget cuts, “It’s a huge leap for me to say, yeah, we need another $4 million,” board president Matt Hamilton said during a board discussion of the state initiative Wednesday.
While Hamilton acknowledged a “greater good” for the state as a whole, especially for the smaller, underfunded districts that the finance reform measure is intended to help, he and other members of the Re-1 board said they need more justification before endorsing the initiative.
The ballot question is the follow-up funding piece of Senate Bill 213, which was approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.
It proposes an increase in the state’s income tax rate to raise approximately $1 billion per year to fund the new finance formula and other components of the bill.
In addition to cleaning up some of the tax policy conflicts in the state that have impacted education funding, and providing more money to some of the poorer school districts through a revamped funding formula, the measure has a strong emphasis on early childhood education.
It would increase the number of slots available through the Colorado Preschool Program, as well as fund full-day kindergarten across the state. Re-1 and many other districts now offer full-day kindergarten on a tuition basis.
Additional funding would also be available for at-risk student programs, special education and English Language Learner (ELL) programs.
And the measure changes the way students are counted for state funding purposes to account for any large fluctuations in enrollment during a school year.
For Roaring Fork Re-1 schools, the initiative would increase state funding from about $36 million currently to about $40 million, according to calculations presented by Shannon Pelland, Re-1’s assistant superintendent of business services, during the Wednesday school board meeting at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.
“For us, it is mostly about full-day kindergarten and providing preschool opportunities for more kids,” Pelland said.
Re-1 board member Daniel Biggs said he worries the measure comes up short in funding all that it intends to fund.
“It sounds to me like they are over-promising what it will provide for the amount of dollars they are collecting,” said Biggs, pointing to provisions that could leave it up to local districts to go to voters again for mill levy increases to fully fund some of the programs.
He also said he was wary of future building and infrastructure costs to local districts to implement some of the programs.
“I’m not disagreeing with the whole bill, and I don’t disagree that we need to solve some of the tax policy issues,” Biggs said. “It just feels like it’s a bill that continues to keep on asking.”
Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko and Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein said the extra funding from the state would free up local funds for such things as summer school and other student intervention programs, which do not have a committed source of funds.
It also provides funding for some of the unfunded programs that have been handed down by the state in recent years, including the new teacher effectiveness law that changes the way teachers are evaluated, Stein added.
Sirko said the district is working with state Sen. Mike Johnston, the main sponsor of SB 213, and state Rep. Millie Hamner, to schedule a meeting with the school boards and representatives from four area school districts, including Roaring Fork Re-1, Aspen, Garfield Re-2 and Garfield District 16, to explain the ballot initiative and answer questions.
That meeting is expected to be scheduled sometime in September, after which the Re-1 board will likely consider a formal position on Initiative 22.
“I’m not disagreeing with the whole bill, and I don’t disagree that we need to solve some of the tax policy issues. It just feels like it’s a bill that continues to keep on asking.”
Re-1 board member