Re-2 task force makes bond, mill levy recommendation

Alex Zorn

Highland Elementary School in Rifle could benefit from new classrooms as part of a bond issue under consideration by theGarfield Re-2 school board for the fall ballot. A mill levy could also help teacher pay.
Re-2 website photo

Over the past several months, members of a Garfield School District Re-2 citizen task force have met several times to discuss the needs of the district as board members explore the option of putting a mill levy and possibly a bond measure on the November 2018 ballot.

Through feedback from community meetings and public opinion research, and after evaluating the district’s operating and capital facility needs, as well as funding proposals, the task force made its recommendation at the June 26 Board of Education meeting. The group was unanimous that the district should proceed in placing a mill levy override question on the November 2018 ballot.

While the task force members were not unanimous in all of their recommendations, they did all agree that the November 2018 election initiative should be specifically for improving the district’s salary schedule.

The citizen task force is comprised of business, civic, education and community leaders and was tasked with vetting the mill levy override proposal and bond proposal that the district is considering for the fall ballot.

Prior to making its recommendation, the task force met and surveyed the communities and discussed the needs of the district moving forward. The committee met several times, evaluating the district’s operating and capital facility needs, funding proposals, public opinion research and feedback from the community.

The task force also looked at feedback from the district residents via a mail survey it sent out in the spring, as well as community outreach meetings.

A total of 7,220 registered voter households within the district were mailed a public opinion survey, which served as an invitation for public reaction to a mill levy override proposal and bond measure proposal.

The survey included 19 questions and included background on both proposals.

A total of 614 surveys were completed and returned, a response rate of approximately 8.5 percent, as residents shared their thoughts on the district’s election initiative.

“When you are in a situation such as ours with districts on either side that have passed one or more mill levies, it makes the playing field uneven,” Board of Education President Anne Guettler said in her report before the task force presentation.

While the task force members were not unanimous in all of its recommendations, they did agree that both the mill levy override and bond measure be scaled back, according to the presentation.

They also agreed that the November 2018 election initiative should be specifically for improving the district’s salary schedule.

With a 61.5 percent survey majority, the task force also recommended the associated bond question be limited to adding four new classrooms at Cactus Valley Elementary and four new classrooms at Highland Elementary School to relieve overcrowding.

Because of insufficient community support, the task force felt that improving safety and security and mental health professionals at schools, promoting career and technical education, and providing affordable housing for teachers and staff, should not be included at this time.

While the survey revealed strong support for adding classrooms at two elementary schools, voters were less supportive of raising property taxes to fund the addition of school resource officers, adding mental health professionals, constructing a Career Technical Education training center and providing affordable housing to help recruit teachers and staff, according to the presentation.

Nearly one-third of district residents indicated they were “extremely concerned” or “very concerned” about the estimated tax impact of the two funding proposals, according to the mail survey.

While the board members will continue to discuss the issue, several were surprised to hear that the CTE center did not receive better support from the community and appeared interested in continuing to explore that option.

“The CTE center is a worthy concept and should be considered in the future with additional time and planning put into the project. Part of this planning should include a citizen oversight committee so we can provide better education about how to finance the CTE center and more logistical information,” presenter Joy Porter said.

“I think what’s most important is that we are providing opportunities for kids,” said board member Jacquelyn Johnson. “Whether that’s to go to university or sending them to a career in technical training where they can go out into the workforce, it’s our job to make sure we are providing them with that opportunity. We have to make sure we are doing what we can to give them opportunities to be successful.”

According to Colorado statute, the only way local school districts can garner more local funds is through a mill levy override or bond.

The district must certify the content of the ballot content to the Garfield County Clerk by early September, so the board will likely vote on whether to place it on the ballot by late August.

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