The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education is expected to consider a mill levy override ballot proposal following discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.
The ballot measure, if approved by both the school board and then voters, would primarily go toward increasing staff salaries.
The override will max out what the school district can source via mill levies — a roughly $6.8 million property tax increase.
Discussions on an override began early in 2020 but were tabled during the pandemic. The committee reconvened in March this year. It is composed of board representation, educators and community members. After district and community outreach in the spring and summer, the official recommendation for an override proposal came in late July.
Current board members, including Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein, Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, Carbondale Town Trustee Ben Bohmfalk and others unanimously supported the recommendation.
The committee determined low salaries and a high cost of living has resulted in high turnover and an inability to fill vacant positions. In a presentation to the board during the meeting, Basalt parent and exploration committee member Ellen Freedman said three out of four applicants who are offered positions decline them because of the financial complications.
“We’re not trying to stop a looming staff crisis that might happen some time in the future,” Freedman said. “We’re having the staffing crisis now.”
Data from the 2019 Cost of Living Index for Colorado School Districts shows that Roaring Fork has the third-highest cost of living in the state. Data from the Department of Education shows the district’s teacher pay ranks 37th.
Roughly 75% of the mill levy pool would go to salary increases, 12% would go to retention and recruitment and 13% is mandated to go to the district’s charter schools, of which Roaring Fork has only Carbondale Community School.
The proposed $6.8 million override would bring a rough total of $15.6 million to the school through mill levies, or 25% of district’s total program funding from the state, which is the cap under Colorado law. Previous mill levy overrides, the latest of which the district passed in 2011, give it an additional $8.8 million.
The funds would be sourced from a local property tax increase. Mill levies factor from assessed property value. Homeowners could expect a monthly tax increase of $3.50 per $100,000 of home value.
Stein introduced the presentation with the hope that the board can take the next step at its Aug. 25 meeting.
“Tonight, we have a formal recommendation to the board,” Stein said. “We’re asking the board to discuss it tonight, and then we will present a more formal proposal to the board to approve ballot language at the Aug. 25 meeting.”
If the board does vote on creating a ballot question on Aug. 25, the public comment item on that agenda will be the public’s last chance to speak on the override before a decision is made. Those who wish to make a comment during the Zoom meetings must fill out a public comment form before the meeting begins, which is available on the school board’s website.
Note: the words “proposed $6.8 million” have been added to the 10th paragraph for clarity.