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Mill levy forum to inform voters

Post Independent Writer

With fewer than two weeks until the 2004 election, concerned citizens and the Garfield School District Re-2 are putting on their game face. By Ivy VogelPost Independent StaffWith fewer than two weeks until the 2004 election, concerned citizens and the Garfield School District Re-2 are putting on their game face.The mill levy committee, which is not affiliated with the school district, has sent out programs, put up signs, placed large ads in both local papers and held several forums to educate people about the $2.7 million mill levy override.The Re-2 district has rallied to get support from Garfield County, the city of Rifle, town of New Castle and town of Silt.Both groups want to ensure that the $2.7 million mill levy override passes during the upcoming election.A mill is one-tenth of a cent (.001 dollars), and is usually added to property tax. It’s used to help fund teacher salaries. School districts ask for a mill levy override when they need more property tax dollars than is allowed by the state. If passed, $1.7 million of the $2.7 million will be used to hire staff and cover operating costs for Coal Ridge High School. The other money will be used to help increase teacher’s salaries and hire additional staff to help reduce class size, said Gary Pack, superintendent of Re-2.Decreasing class sizes allow for students to have more one-on-one time with their teachers, Pack said. “I don’t think this district has made an effort to explain exactly how the money will be spent,” said Ross Talbott, former member of the Re-2 school board who lives in New Castle. “Last time they just misled the public, and now they’re being real quiet and laying in the weeds.”Informational packets have not been sent to the general public and the district is being vague in stating that money will go “toward opening Coal Ridge” or “increasing teacher’s salaries,” Talbott said.The district has a very detailed budget for opening Coal Ridge and invites any member of the public to take a look at the budget, Pack said.Although the district has a good estimate of how much it will cost to get the new high school running, the exact cost depends on the number of students who attend during the first year.The district estimates 200-250 kids will attend Coal Ridge during the first year. To staff the school – this includes everything from teachers to custodians – the district will need 20-25 people, some of which will transfer from other schools within the district, Pack said.If the district doesn’t need all of the $1.7 million slated for Coal Ridge, money will be used to decrease class size in some of the bigger classrooms, Pack said.The district can’t prove that decreasing class sizes makes students perform better, Talbott said.”They’re just using the kid card,” Talbott said. “In other words, they say that if you love the kids you would support the mill levy override.”During several meetings board members have emphasized the fact that although they love the kids and want to build more programs for them, they need to respect requests from the community.Re-2 reduced the $4 million to $2.7 by deciding not to pass after-school programs the community did not want to support.”This time we’re trying a more simplistic view,” Pack said. “We’re trying to answer questions, and we’ve done a lot to get the information out there.”Talbott is concerned about the amount of money currently spent on after-school programs, specifically sports.A district that needs funding should consider cutting the litany of sports programs before asking voters for money, Talbott said.The district supports extracurricular programs such as athletics because they’re an important education component, Pack said.”National indicators suggest that the best athletes tend to be higher achieving students on the whole,” Pack said.Talbott is also concerned about the increase in taxes. If passed, the mill levy will increase taxes by $39 a year per $100,000 of assessed valuation. “Some people may always look at this as a tax issue, but the reality is, schools need money, and there’s no other means to get it,” said Anne Guettler, member of the mill levy committee.Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. 534ivogel@postindependent.com


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