We are reminded this week that the school district is caught in financial quicksand. The board of education will meet next week to consider fairly drastic ways to deal with an expected budget shortfall, caused primarily by the budget crisis at the state level.
Colorado faces a significant drop in revenue and shoulders a huge deficit that must be eradicated. Public education in the state consumes a large part of the state budget, so the moves made at the state level to deal with the problem have an immediate impact on schools. School districts in Colorado are expecting as much as a 10-percent reduction in funding for 2010-2011.
Officials at the local school district expect they will need to trim more than $1.3 million from the upcoming budget and as much as $1 million from the 2011-2012 budget. Two years, and potentially more than $2 million.
What can they do?
The board will consider ideas such as closure of the intermediate school, a four-day school week, furlough days for staff, no step funding, reductions of co-curricular activities, reductions in student transportation, no new textbook adoptions, possible changes in staffing, and others. The “solutions” portend crowded spaces, fewer resources, a lesser experience for all concerned.
None of the changes spell a better education for local students, and no argument can be made to the contrary. As it is, this school district is not extravagant; it has barely enough money to provide an average K-12 education to local youngsters. Cut things back, and the wound runs deepest with the students.
Not only do students suffer in this cutback scenario, but the community suffers. Take one example: the issue du jour — economic development. How far do you get with a work force that is inadequately prepared? How many entrepreneurs and business owners can you attract when it becomes known their children and the children of their employees will be educated in a system that has been cut beyond the bare bone?
So, what to do?
One idea: an election to raise the district mill levy, to produce funds to minimize the blow.
The district has an assessed valuation of more than $391 million, from which it extracts its tax revenue. It has a base mill levy of 21.014. What would it take for the district to raise an additional $2 million per year – enough to deal with the shortfall and provide more muscle in the effort to amp up the programs in the district (honors programs, anyone?)
It would add 5 mills to the tax burden, or approximately $80 more per year for a property worth $200,000.
Not a lot.
With the current uproar over taxation, there will be many who react negatively to the notion of paying more— though it can be argued their local taxes are, for the most part, spent well. There will be many who do not care that our future here, and our future as a nation, depend heavily on the quality of education we provide our youngest citizens. TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment will continue to stifle school funding at the state level — the same restrictions do not apply here.
Do we go for an increase in the mill levy?
The board of education has some difficult decisions to make. This isn’t a matter of finding extra funds to send a student group to a science fair, or of deciding whether they can fund another administrator’s position in the head office. These decisions directly affect the manner in which we equip our young people to deal with a world that is more demanding every day — a world in which an excellent education provides the tools needed by our children, grandchildren and society, to prosper.
If additional tax is not the answer, what is?
If you know, now is the time to step forward. The board meets to discuss these issues next Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the junior high school library. They invite, and want your input. If you have the answer, now is the time to voice it.