No. 5 news story of 2011: Schools turned to voters for funding boost amid state cuts
A third consecutive year of state per-pupil funding cuts for K-12 public education resulted in major cuts to school district budgets in the lower Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County for the 2011-12 school year.
Roaring Fork School District Re-1, encompassing Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, trimmed another $2.6 million from its budget, including the elimination of 13 teaching positions.
Overall, 76 full- and part-time staff positions were cut, on top of across-the-board pay cuts, a continued freeze on new curriculum purchases, and reductions in school materials and supplies budgets.
Garfield Re-2, with schools in New Castle, Silt, Rifle, and District 16 in Parachute and Battlement Mesa, were forced to make similar cuts, including the elimination of numerous teaching, administrative and para-professional positions.
School boards in all three districts put together ballot questions asking voters for additional property taxes, through what’s known as a mill levy override, to help backfill the state funding losses.
However, when the Nov. 1 election rolled around, Roaring Fork Re-1 was one of only five school districts in the state, out of 22 that had similar questions on the ballot, to pass their measure.
In Re-1, 56 percent of voters supported the $4.8 million override question.
However, Re-2 lost its bid for an additional $3 million in yearly property taxes, as 63 percent of district voters rejected the measure.
District 16 had a three-tiered, $4.7 million tax question aimed at supplementing the general fund, subsidizing full-day kindergarten, and funding a three-year facilities upgrades plan. It also lost, with 59 percent of district voters opposed.
“I’m very disappointed in the voting citizens,” D-16 school board president Sarah Orona said on election night. “To me, it seems like they made their choice that education matters less than $27 a year.”
School boards in both Re-2 and D-16 will be busy this spring deciding where to make additional cuts, which could include closing some smaller schools and laying off teachers.
Although the state funding picture was looking a little brighter based on recent budget forecasts, Colorado school districts were also preparing for possible additional state funding cuts for 2012-13.
Re-1’s additional $4.8 million in annual property taxes is intended to be used to maintain reasonable class sizes, attract and retain quality staff, provide new and updated texts, technology and other learning materials, and to maintain school facilities.
The Re-1 school board plans to meet early in the new year to begin determining how to allocate the funds, both for the current year and looking ahead to 2012-13.
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