Mill levy, bond issue possible in Garfield County School District 16
Citizen Telegram Editor
PARACHUTE/BATTLEMENT MESA – After four years of declining revenue and fewer and fewer students, officials in Garfield County School District 16 are strongly considering asking voters to approve a mill levy override and bond issue in November that would increase property taxes in the district.
A steering committee has been formed to look into the issues that have seen the state of Colorado cut its funding to the district by $4.8 million in the last four years. In that same time, enrollment has dropped by about 380 students, said Finance Director Rose Belden. The declines in revenue and enrollment have also caused the district to reduce staff by 30 to 35 percent, she added. The district also went to a four-day school week last school year and will drop one sports program next fall.
“If the state doesn’t support us the way they should, we’ll have no other option but to ask our local community for help,” Belden said.
In the 2008-09 school year, the district employed 206 people, including 92 certified teachers, Belden said. This school year, 164 people are employed, including 70 certified teachers. Over that same time, the district’s enrollment has dropped from 1,419 students to 1,050 this year, Belden added.
The district’s general fund budget in 2008-09 was just under $11.4 million; this year the projected budget is $9.8 million, Belden noted. Of that amount, more than $339,000 is coming out of district reserves, she added. This is the second year of deficit spending, Belden said. Last year, the district deficit spent $326,000.
The decrease in state funding has come from budget cuts by state lawmakers, while the drop in enrollment has meant less state per-pupil funding. Lawmakers this year restored some money to public education, but the district school board is scheduled to consider district finances at its May 7 meeting, Belden said.
Around 90 percent of the district’s property tax revenue comes from the natural gas industry, she pointed out, an industry that has sharply cut activity in the district over the same time period. That’s led workers to relocate to other areas of the state and country where activity is higher, so those families are no longer sending their children to district schools, Belden said.
Further compounding the district’s funding problems has been parents who see how the funding losses and budget cuts affect their child’s school, so they transfer them to the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs or elsewhere, she added.
“We just think there has to be a line in the sand, and if we don’t get any more help, we’ll have no choice but to make even more layoffs,” Belden said.
Superintendent Dr. Ken Haptonstall noted that even with the budget cuts already made and declining enrollment, student achievement test scores have improved.
“So we are doing some good things,” he said. “But these next two or three years could be pretty dramatic. Our district has one of the highest percentages of [declining enrollment], compared to when I arrived here in the 2007-08 school year. We were one of the fastest growing districts.”
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.