As the November election draws nearer, the Montezuma-Cortez school board and staff are in talks about how to present a proposed mill levy override to help it pass this year.
Staff members and directors hope that with proper messaging, the latest measure will pass. At a work session Tuesday night, board members focused on what to emphasize during their campaign, how they can get people to vote, and how to improve upon previous years’ failed attempts at a property tax increase.
The board decided in May to put the proposal on the ballot. The proposed property tax increase would raise about $2.6 million, according to Lori Haukeness, superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1.
In spreading the message, staff members and board members agreed they should hone in on the need for more competitive teacher salaries to help attract and retain high-quality teachers.
“We’re basically not competitive, and that really hurts us,” board member Jack Schuenemeyer said at the June 18 meeting. “The key is being able to retain a reasonable number of good teachers, as well as attract quality teachers.”
According to assistant superintendent Dan Porter, the district lost the equivalent of 29.5 teachers this past year, one of whom was part-time, and the district has not yet hired a high school principal to replace Jason Wayman.
Staff and board members hope to emphasize the economic benefits of raising teacher salaries.
On the economic front, salary increases would lead teachers to spend more money at local businesses, they said.
“We’re dropping $3 million into the local economy,” said board member Lance McDaniel.
In the long run, board members said, hiring and keeping high-quality teachers would improve the local workforce and attract global businesses, which consider the quality of local school districts when deciding where to set up shop.
“A good educational system will attract businesses,” Schuenemeyer said. He pointed to Osprey as an example of a business that could have chosen to be situated “anywhere in the United States, probably anywhere in the world.” A high-quality school district is a key factor that businesses like Osprey look at for their own employees, he said.
Board members also discussed improving upon previous years’ campaigns and showing voters they listened to their concerns. Also important, Porter said, was to explain why they don’t need funds for other projects at this time.
“When we’re talking to people, and they’re asking: ‘Why don’t you need money for buses anymore, why don’t you need this,’ we can say they upped our per-pupil revenue and we were able to cover some of those things with that,” Porter said.
The board and staff talked about how best to reach voters, including yard signs, brochures, banners and newspaper advertising.
Brochures and postcards were tossed around as convenient and portable strategies, and Schuenemeyer suggested large banners at strategic points along Colorado Highway 145.
They also talked about the value of story-sharing, and of possibly bringing former graduates along with them on campaigning efforts, or getting advocates within local organizations and groups.
This time around, they also wanted to ensure that Towaoc residents are included in campaign efforts. Board member Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk said the number of registered voters in her district was somewhat unclear, but she would reach out to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, along with promoting their message through reservation television and radio outlets.
The official language will be solidified in July.