C and D serious issue for Re-1 | PostIndependent.com

C and D serious issue for Re-1

Forget the oinking pigs and talking heads on TV. Roaring Fork School District Re-1 officials say Referendums C and D are serious business that could determine teacher salaries and class sizes for students in the Roaring Fork Valley.

On Nov. 1, Coloradans will vote on Referendums C and D, which will allow some provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, to be rolled back for five years.

Under Referendum C, if passed, taxpayers won’t receive their annual refund of extra tax dollars the state doesn’t use as mandated by TABOR. The state will keep the money and spend it on education, transportation and fire and police pensions.

If Referendum D is approved, it will allow the state to borrow more than $2 billion for transportation projects, public school and higher education buildings and local fire and police pensions. It would take effect only if Referendum C passes.

Re-1 Superintendent Fred Wall said that if Referendums C and D fail, it would force the district to create larger classes and prevent it from giving teachers raises.

He called it “the domino effect” of the district being unable to pay teachers enough to keep up with the high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Wall said he’s afraid that the state will be unable to fund public education under Amendment 23, a state constitutional amendment passed in 2000 that requires the state to increase its spending on public education for 10 years at the rate of inflation plus one percent.

“What that means is they’re going to have a tough decision,” Wall said, referring to state legislators. “They’re not going to be able to fund that amendment. If they do, other services will erode even more,” such as the state’s roadways, colleges and universities.

Tuition hikes possible

Roaring Fork school board president Susan Hakanson said she “absolutely” supports the referendums, because if they fail, she said, it will mean budget cuts for the district and a devastating spike in college tuition for high school graduates.

She said she heard that Western State College in Gunnison could drastically raise its tuition next year instead of slashing programs.

“That has a huge impact on K-12 education,” she said, and wondered how graduating seniors will be able to attend in-state colleges.

But a gigantic spike in tuition “sounds like doomsday,” said Larry Meredith, Western State College director of public relations.

“We have to raise tuition significantly,” he said. “Nobody’s talking percentages yet.”

If C and D fail, higher education will be hit hard, said Heather McGregor of the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based think tank that supports C and D.

She said the future is uncertain: “Starting in the fiscal year 2005-’06, Colorado will be in a position where our tax revenues will be in excess of the amount of money we can keep under the TABOR limitations. The state government will have to issue TABOR rebates at the same time they’ll have to make about $400 million in cuts in the same year. Some of that will affect schools.”

Higher education impacts

If C and D fail, Meredith said the college will be forced to cut $3.3 million from its budget, more than 40 percent of what the state contributes today.

Though he said he hasn’t a clue where program cuts would be made, “it would be in many areas.”

What’s more, he said, were C and D to fail, the pricetag on a degree at Western could eventually match that of out-of-state colleges.

It’s unclear how the referendums would affect Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood, but the failure of C and D will surely mean budget cuts, said CMC President Bob Spuhler, who said he supports C and D.

CMC gets only about 10 percent of its budget from the state, which makes it may be easier for the school to absorb any loss in funding, he said.

Where cuts would be made will be up to the school’s board, Spuhler said, but he speculated that they could be in equipment purchases, not in staffing. He said keeping the school affordable is CMC’s top priority, adding that the board has been emphatic about maintaining CMC’s accessibility for people of all income levels.

On the secondary school level, not all state money will disappear, and local school districts will have to determine on their own where cuts will be made, McGregor said.

Governor candidate disagrees

For Roaring Fork school board member Brad Zeigel, detractors of C and D who say the referendums amount to a tax increase that will prevent families from getting their rightfully earned money are being “selfish” and “short-sighted.”

“If you believe in a common good, you believe in public schools,” Zeigel said. “I support taxation.”

Though Zeigel said he credits the district’s good management for keeping its books in the black with its current level of funding, Republican gubernatorial candidate and fierce C and D foe Marc Holtzman said Monday that any school district complaining it will lose money if C and D fail just isn’t managing its money wisely.

Holtzman, who has a home in Carbondale, said the Roaring Fork School District’s state funding is guaranteed because the state is required by law to fund Amendment 23.

When asked how a C and D failure would benefit local schools, he said that if he were elected governor, he’d try to get a proposal on the ballot that would guarantee that 65 percent of a school’s budget is spent “in the classroom” by shifting “$420 million a year into teacher salaries, after school programs without raising taxes.”

He suggested suspending Amendment 23 in times of recession and said proponents of Amendment C are only assuming the state would have to make $400 million in cuts, as McGregor said. “The number’s going to be $200 million,” he said.

He said Wall’s concerns about the referendums are “scare tactics” and “shameful politics” similar to those allegedly used by former Gov. Roy Romer to oppose TABOR.

Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520


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