Roaring Fork School District approves mill levy override ballot question
Property tax raise to address employee wages will go to voters on Nov. 2
Roaring Fork School District voters will decide on a property tax increase to source funds for employee wages this November.
The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education’s five members voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve and place ballot language on a mill levy override for the primary focus of raising employee wages to assist with recruitment and retention.
The district is currently in the midst of a staffing crisis that is “the worst it’s ever been,“ said Roaring Fork School District Chief of Student and Family Services Anna Cole, with more than 50 positions — and several roles within some of those positions — unfilled as the school year enters its third week.
Passing the ballot measure will generate a maximum of $7.7 million from the community through a property tax increase. This figure was previously reported at $6.8 million, but updated enrollment and budget projections have been released since the last Board of Education discussion on the topic. Currently, Roaring Fork receives nearly $1,600 annually in per-pupil mill levy override funding, less than each neighboring district and just over half Aspen’s $3,025.
Roaring Fork has the third-highest cost of living in the state, but teacher wages reportedly rank 37th, according to the district.
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Housing and even gas prices have caused some to decline to apply, rescind job acceptances or walk away after having established a role within the district, Carbondale Middle School principal Jennifer Lamont told the Post Independent.
Earlier in the meeting, the board also unanimously approved a critical staff shortage resolution, allowing the district to hire back retirees as teachers, drivers and food services workers for a temporary tenure.
It’s a regular measure every year, but the situation is more dire than it’s ever been, Cole said.
“I don’t know the last time we’ve started the school year with schools and some of our early childhood positions not filled,” Cole said of the Family Resource Center in the board meeting. “It’s because of a lack of applicants.”
Cole said the resource center is currently short three employees. She added that all of the schools located in Basalt, among others, are without a health aide, which is additionally straining during COVID-19. A district nursing position has sat unfilled for more than a year.
Three early childhood education programs are understaffed, even with reduced services due to the pandemic.
Jeff Gatlin, the district’s chief operating officer, said there are five vacant custodial positions across the district’s schools. Food and nutritional services are understaffed by three, transportation is down five bus drivers and a mechanic, maintenance is understaffed by two plus an HVAC position. Two ground staff positions are also empty, which is 40% of the staff.
The operations department is being forced to triage and reduce services for the first time in Gatlin’s tenure.
“We’re being forced to make really hard decisions where we’re picking the lesser of two evils,” Gatlin said. “It’s not fun, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a good outcome from there.”
In direct academic impact, Roaring Fork started the school year with 2.5 unfilled special education positions and has not filled 16 paraprofessional roles, or half the desired staff count, according to Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt.
Some holes have been plugged with parents or staff taking on additional duties, but all three department heads expressed concern over the sustainability of that approach, citing burnout and a lower quality of services to begin with.
District voters have previously passed mill levy overrides, which allow the district to source additional tax revenue higher than the state rate based on the assessed value of property. The maximum allowed amount is 25% of the district’s annual total program funding.
Should the ballot measure pass, it would bring Roaring Fork School District to its cap and permit it to draw roughly $16 million through mill levy revenue.
The election is on Nov. 2.
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Students in the woods/construction classes at Basalt High School are getting hands-on experience by building a tiny home.