Roaring Fork School District mill levy override on track to pass

Roaring Fork School District voters took a step toward addressing its labor shortage on Election Day, passing a tax mill levy override question that will source up to $7.7 million annually for the purpose of increasing salaries across the district.

In early returns, ballot question 5B drew more than 65% yes votes. As of 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, the question had 7,854 yes votes and 3,542 no votes across Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.

It asked voters to increase property taxes to source funds for increasing salaries as the rising cost of living has priced out prospective hires and current workers from the Roaring Fork Valley. The district started the school year with more than 60 open positions across its 13 schools and additional offices.

“We’re very hopeful, and we’re very excited that the community members of Roaring Fork School District are so supportive of our teachers and staff,” Glenwood Springs Middle School Teacher and Yes on 5B campaign co-chair Autumn Rivera said.

The Yes on 5B campaign — organized by district employees and community members — said the additional funding would allow the district to increase the salaries of staff districtwide by an average of 10-12%. These increases do not apply to district administration, but do apply to support staff, operations and other positions.

The school district offers the 23rd highest wages in the state of Colorado, but the cost of living within its boundaries is third-highest. At a per-pupil level, Roaring Fork is in the bottom third in funding in the state.

Rivera, the 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year, said that she and 75% of teachers at the school district have had to take second jobs to afford to stay in the Roaring Fork Valley. As many as three out of four prospective hires rescind their job acceptance when they learn how expensive living in the area is.

The hope is that raising wages will help alleviate financial stress on the district’s workers and help them not only bring in new talent but retain it.

“It’s going to help our teachers and staff in ways that I think people can’t even fully understand at this point,” Rivera said. “It’s going to mean that we’re going to be able to keep our strong teachers in our classrooms. We’re going to be able to keep our dedicated staff in our schools and other buildings.”

After a Colorado-mandated 13% of the accrued funds goes to the district’s charter schools, 75% of the remaining pool will go to salary increases and 25% will go to recruitment and retention measures.

The passed measure means property owners can expect tax increases. Commercial property owners will pay $14.21 per $100,000 of assessed value per month. Homeowners will pay $3.62 per $100,000 of assessed value per month.

The mill levy override goes into effect on Jan. 1, and the actual allotment won’t be known until the end of December when enrollment numbers are finalized for budgeting purposes. Superintendent Rob Stein said that the first priority is to restore lost progress after wage freezes during the pandemic, followed by raising salaries to be competitive in the top third of their comparison groups.

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