Roaring Fork School District begins plans for mill levy override, discusses a board member’s influence on decisions
How much input a school board member should give when it comes to the district budget was a matter of debate during Wednesday’s Roaring Fork School District School Board meeting. Board Member Jasmin Ramirez requested at the beginning of the meeting to add language access, concerning translations of documents for the district’s families who don’t speak or read in English, as a budget line item for the upcoming school year.
“Truthfully, since the pandemic exacerbated all these inequalities, I think we all can see without really a recommendation that this is something our district needs,” Ramirez said. “I definitely want us to be very strategic as well to make sure that we are taking all of that into account because it’s word from our staff, but I also think that there’s immediate needs that should be at the forefront of our decision right now with the budget.”
The way the recommendation process for the budget is currently set up, the school board and executive team would hear presentations from staff members after the budget deadline from the state. Superintendent Rob Stein expressed his frustration at the two dates being out of sync, but said that foregoing a recommendation would make it difficult to determine how much the district should set aside for language access resources.
“I don’t think there’s a single line item for those things. We already have a lot in our budget, or a lot of activities that we engage in around those things, including an interpreter in tonight’s board meeting, translating materials like newsletters from the district. But we’re going to want to expand that so we’re going to want to pay for that expansion,” Stein said.
Ramirez agreed to meet with Chief Financial Officer Nathan Markham, and Stein at a later date to discuss adding language access to the budget. President Natalie Torres also said it should be added to the board’s document of items to return to at future board meetings.
Mill Levy Override Exploration
Stein gave a presentation explaining how a mill levy override would benefit the district’s schools, students and families, emphasizing the executive team is still in the “exploratory phase” of the process.
“Here’s how a mill levy override works: according to state statutes, local school districts may ask their taxpayers in their community to approve a mill levy override real estate tax for up to about 25% above the base per pupil funding,” Stein said.
He described the current staffing crisis in the district as being due to the lack of competitive wages for teachers paired with the high cost of living in the schools’ communities. RFSD is the third-most-expensive school district to live in in the state of Colorado and ranks 37th in average teacher pay, Stein said. Based on mill levy overrides from the past, the district could collect a total of $6.8 million from local taxpayers, but would only be able to use $5.1 million after setting aside the designated amount by the state for charter schools.
“We know that our teachers enjoy working in our schools, and the vast majority of staff want to stay in the Roaring Fork School District and think it’s a great place to work. The challenge is that without more competitive wages we’re at risk of losing our most valuable asset — our people,” Stein said.
Campaigning for the mill levy override won’t happen until closer to the election date, but the board was in support of its implementation overall. Board member Jennifer Scherer asked Stein what his outreach methods would be for educating the public about the impact the override could have and disseminating the information. Stein replied with a simple answer — by just showing up.
“I think we’ll talk to anybody who will listen. … chambers of commerce, major employers, rotary clubs … and if anybody were listening and wanted to have a presentation and are willing, it could even be a church group or something, I think this is going to be a major part of my work from now until November,” Stein said.
Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Equity, and how that plays into school district communications with primarily Spanish-speaking families, became a topic of discussion as the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education approved the 2021-22 district budget Wednesday night.