Special to Colorado Community Media
The Elizabeth school board is regrouping after the defeat of two funding questions that failed to meet voter approval. On Nov. 4, the school district’s voters rejected TABOR tax Question 3A, a proposed $1 million per year mill levy override, and Question 3B, a $2.5 million bond issue.
The measures were intended to make up for shortfalls from the state — called the negative funding factor — totaling more than $13 million over the past five years and an estimated $1.95 million for the 2015-16 school year. The shortfalls are forcing the district to operate at 17 percent below its annual budget.
“Seventy-two percent of our funding comes from the state,” said Chris Richardson, a member of the school board. “Right now there is no plan B. If we had another way to do this, we would not have asked voters for more taxes.”
Question 3A, a proposed mill levy designed to generate $1 million annually, would have cost the average homeowner in the
district an additional $180 per year ($52 per $100,000 of a home’s value) and the average business owner about $220 per year. A sunset provision would have retired the tax after five years.
The hoped-for revenue was intended to fund a School Resource Officer program for all the schools within the district, to upgrade learning technology such as computers, and to increase teachers’ salaries.
“That’s our biggest issue,” Richardson said. “We can’t compete in the marketplace for teachers. As teachers move on (to other districts), they are picking up the same jobs for about 26 percent higher salary.”
According to statistics published by the district, the teacher turnover rate in the district was 30 percent in 2014.
Question 3A was voted down 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent.
District voters had a little more stomach for Question 3B, which failed by a ratio of 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent, with only 413 votes separating the totals. The measure would have authorized the district to issue $2.5 million worth of bonds and to extend an existing tax, scheduled to sunset in 2019, for an additional 2 years. The district wanted to take advantage of low interest rates currently available for the bond issue while hoping voters would be willing to extend a tax they have been paying for 15 years.
The $2.5 million bond proposal was aimed at specific capital improvements throughout the district, such as roof repairs at Singing Hills Elementary School and Elizabeth High School, replacement of an obsolete fire alarm panel at Running Creek Elementary School, an update to an emergency communication systems, and the replacement of up to five school buses.
Richardson said the projects proposed would still need to be completed, but undertakings such as the roof replacement of Elizabeth High School would be need to be completed piecemeal, thereby increasing the overall cost compared with completing it all at once.
According to Richardson, there was no organized opposition to Questions 3A and 3B, and voters who talked with canvassers prior to the election reacted positively to both proposals.
“We fall between two major media markets and there was a lot of extra noise with a well-funded election,” said Richardson. “In a lot of cases we got lost in the noise.”
In a Nov. 6 press release, the school board expressed its disappointment at the result and encouraged voters to contact the board “to provide insight on their vote regarding the bond and the mill levy override.”
The board is currently a party to a lawsuit brought by the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance charging that the negative funding factor is unconstitutional.