I again want to thank the community committee, Colorado Education Association, and the many teachers, staff, and community members who supported the mill-levy override.
As the superintendent and a longtime resident in this community, I am disappointed that the measure did not pass, but I respect the will of the voters and appreciate the feedback I received.
It is clear that the community wants us to be very thoughtful in looking at our budget. One of my priorities as superintendent has been to increase communication and engagement with the community. It is clear to me that we need to strengthen this effort.
During the course of the election, questions were raised that made me realize that there are still lingering misunderstandings about the work of the district as well as about the mill levy itself. I have asked our team to create a more detailed “Citizen’s Guide to the Budget” that will be available shortly to provide more information on the RE-1 budget and on school funding. I also wanted to take a moment to try to address some of those questions now.
Why didn’t the district ask for a sales tax instead of property tax?
In Colorado, school districts are not legally authorized to levy sales taxes. The local funding mechanism for education in all counties across Colorado is property taxes and the only way for local school districts to increase their local funding is to ask voters for an increase in property taxes.
Wasn’t marijuana tax money supposed to go to education?
A portion of the marijuana money does benefit schools but it is primarily available through grants that support building new schools or upgrading existing schools through the Building Excellent Schools Fund. A smaller portion of the marijuana money is also available through grants to support drug prevention activities.
Why was the ballot question worded poorly and without a sunset provision?
Ballot questions in Colorado have to be written in such a way that they conform to the state’s TABOR law. To ensure that our ballot question was legally compliant, an attorney drafted the ballot question. It specified the district’s three priorities that need to be addressed but left future board members some discretion to distribute the money among those three areas based on need and to respond to unforeseen emergencies. The reason the ballot question did not have a sunset provision is because all three of these expenses – salaries, bus replacement, and technology – will be ongoing. Because retention is a priority, we especially wanted our teachers to feel secure in the long-term commitment of the district and community to the increase.
What about accountability? How does the public know where the district spends its money now and that it is being financially responsible? What would guarantee that the mill levy would be spent in these areas?
The district has many systems to promote transparency and accountability for decisions, finances, and academic performance.
The primary mechanism for accountability is the elected board, which meets monthly in a public meeting to discuss the district’s finances, including reviewing and approving the annual budget, monthly financial reports that show how the district is doing with revenues and expenditures compared with the budget, and any requested modifications of the budget. All of these discussions are open to the public and all of these budget documents are public documents and community members can request them at any time.
The District Accountability Committee, made up of community members, business owners, parents and school leaders, meets monthly to discuss RE-1 finances, academic performance and other initiatives. This group provides input to the board on these issues, and these meetings are open to the public.
What comes next?
Over the next few months, the board will review our budget, plan for next year, and discuss the possibility of another mill-levy override to provide funds to address these ongoing needs. We will be looking at short-term solutions, but the needs that prompted the ballot issue still remain. Now is the time for the district and the community to work together to try to find ways to meet these goals with limited resources. We will need everyone’s input and participation to meet this challenge. The board meets the third Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m., and I invite you to attend. I also personally invite you to reach out to my office with questions, concerns or ideas.
Lori Haukeness is superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.