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September 15, 2013
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Lawmakers come to Glenwood Springs to discuss school finance amendment

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The primary sponsors of a new law revamping the way public schools in Colorado are financed will be in town Tuesday to explain a ballot proposal that is before voters this fall to fund the measure.

Representatives from area school districts, including Roaring Fork Re-1, Garfield Re-2 and Garfield District 16, have been invited to meet with state Sen. Mike Johnston and Rep. Millie Hamner at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Glenwood Springs High School auditorium.

“This is an opportunity for school board members and others associated with the schools to ask questions about the proposal,” Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko said.

The meeting is open to the public, and citizens may have an opportunity to ask their own questions, she said.

But the meeting is mainly intended for school officials to learn more about Amendment 66, which is now officially on the Nov. 5 ballot, as local school boards consider taking positions on the proposal.

“We certainly intend to hold other informational meetings in the near future, where both sides are presented and where people can have an opportunity to ask questions,” Sirko said.

Johnston and Hamner were the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 213, which passed the state Legislature and was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.

Amendment 66 is the follow-up funding question being put to the state’s voters. It proposes a tiered increase in the state income tax, depending on a person’s income level, to raise approximately $1 billion annually to fund the new school finance formula.

The measure is aimed at cleaning up some of the conflicts in state tax policies affecting education funding to local school districts.

In addition to ensuring an equal share of funding for poorer, rural school districts, it also increases funding for the state preschool program, ELL programs and special education, and funds full-day kindergarten in school districts across the state.

Under the provisions of the legislation, the state has through 2017 to come up with a funding mechanism for the new school finance law.

The Roaring Fork Re-1 school board has reserved time for a possible special meeting at the end of a Wednesday work session in Carbondale to consider taking a formal stance on the ballot proposal.

For Re-1, which includes public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, the measure would result in an additional $4 million in state funding annually.

Approximately $1.6 million of that would be from a per-pupil funding increase to the district to about $7,200 per student, from the current level of $6,880, according to a memo provided to the school board last week from Re-1 finance director Shannon Pelland.

In addition, Re-1 stands to receive about $1.4 million for full-day kindergarten funding, $640,889 for additional preschool slots under the Colorado Preschool Program, and $526,500 in additional funding to support special education services.

School board officials, during a recent discussion, were hesitant to support the measure without learning more about it and what it will mean both locally and statewide in terms of benefits and potential costs.

While acknowledging the need to more adequately fund smaller school districts that have a limited property tax base, board members said districts that have been successful in obtaining additional funding locally through mill levy overrides, such as Re-1, may have a harder time making a case to local voters for Amendment 66.

In terms of costs to Re-1 as a result of the measure, if it passes, Pelland said the district would likely need to purchase some modular classroom facilities to accommodate full-day kindergarten.

“The cost of a two-classroom modular is about $150,000 after installation, and could be covered with general fund reserves,” Pelland indicated in her memo.

“Of course, modulars are a temporary solution to our capacity issues,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome of Amendment 66, the district will likely need to go back to local voters within the next three years for a bond issue to construct new facilities for the Glenwood Springs attendance area, Pelland said.

That is due to the fact that both Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Springs Elementary schools are over optimum capacity, and Glenwood Springs Middle School is at capacity, she said.

“If the amendment passes, we will need to partner with community preschool providers to accommodate additional preschool participation,” she also said in her memo. “All other costs associated with implementing the bill will need to be accommodated within the increase in per pupil funding, as well as the increased special ed funding.”

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Sep 17, 2013 09:52AM Published Sep 16, 2013 02:47PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.