Roaring Fork School District mill levy override increase goes to election next week

Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein speaks at the Issues and Answers Forum at Morgridge Commons on Oct. 11.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Voters will decide if raising teacher and Roaring Fork School District employee wages justifies an increase in property taxes in Tuesday’s election.

Ballot question 5B asks if property taxes should be raised to source up to $7.7 million in mill levy override funds for next year and each year thereafter — adjusted for inflation — to help address the Roaring Fork School District’s staffing crisis. The district began the school year with more than 60 position openings across support staff, operations and even in the classroom. District officials say salaries being disproportionately low compared to the cost of living in Roaring Fork Valley is the main culprit.

“We really cut our budget to the bone, and we are still having teachers leaving because they cannot afford to live here,” Autumn Rivera, Glenwood Middle School teacher and co-chair of the Yes on 5B campaign, said in a ballot issues forum Oct. 11.

Rivera said 75% of district teachers work second jobs — including herself — to afford to stay here. At the same rate, new teacher applicants turn down job offers when seeking housing options.

Data from the Colorado Department of Education shows that the Roaring Fork School District exhibits the third-highest cost of living in the state, but educator pay lags behind at 23rd in average teacher pay according to 2020 data. While the $56,424 is within the top quarter of the state, it is still below the state average of $58,219.

The state mandates that 13% of mill levy override funds go to a district’s charter schools, of which Roaring Fork has one — Carbondale Community School. The remaining funds will be divided up 75% to staff and salary increases and 25% to recruitment and retention efforts.

The Yes on 5B campaign estimates that it will result in 10-12% raises for district staff. District administration raises are not included in the mill levy plans.

Homeowners would pay $3.62 per $100,000 of assessed value per month, and commercial property owners would pay $14.67 per $100,000 of assessed value per month, according to the campaign.

The campaign has been endorsed by the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education, the Glenwood Springs City Council and the Post Independent editorial board.

School board District A candidate Kenny Teitler and District E candidate Kathryn Kuhlenberg have adamantly supported the mill levy override in their campaigns. District A candidate Chase McWhorter and District E candidate Steven Fotion have expressed reticence, specifically on oversight of how the funds are spent.

“That would be my biggest concern is to make sure the funds are supposed to go, they go there,” McWhorter said in the same Oct. 11 forum.

The ballot language says the funds will be placed in the district’s general fund and would be subject to independent auditor review annually.

Roaring Fork School District already sources approximately $9 million from mill levy override funds through previous ballot measures, the most recent of which was passed in 2011. Colorado state law allows for school districts to source an additional 25% of their state funding amount through mill levy overrides. Passing 5B would bring the Roaring Fork School District to its mill levy override cap.

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