The Montezuma-Cortez school board unanimously approved ballot language for a mill levy override they hope to pass this November.
The property tax increase would go to support teacher raises and safety initiatives, according to Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 officials. Approving the language allows the district to officially certify the ballot question with the county.
Specifically, the board talked over the second paragraph of the ballot question, which deals with the purpose of the tax increase. The paragraph states that the mill levy money will be used, “To hire and retain high-quality teachers and support staff, including law enforcement school resource officers, by increasing salaries and benefits.”
“We need teachers to stay,” said Board President Sherri Wright.
Raising salaries in order to remain competitive with neighboring districts is one way to keep teachers and achieve consistency, the district officials say.
The board decided in May to put the proposal on the ballot. They are looking to pass 5 mills, which would raise a little under $2.9 million, according to Superintendent Lori Haukeness.
The most recent attempt to pass a mill levy override in 2017 failed, and last year, the board decided not to put it on the ballot, saying that the timing was off.
This time around, RE-1 staff and board members hope that with proper messaging and listening to community feedback, voters will approve the measure.
According to Haukeness, the district’s teacher turnover rates have been consistently above 20%, and above the state average since 2013. In the 2018-19 school year, the RE-1 turnover rate was about 24%, compared to a statewide rate of about 16%.
This high turnover has contributed to a lower experience level in the teacher pool. About 48% of all district teachers have fewer than five years of experience, Haukeness said.
Over the last few years, some Montezuma County teachers have chosen to commute to Durango, which has a significantly higher starting salary.
According to Haukeness, the Montezuma-Cortez starting salary for a teacher with a Bachelor of Arts degree is $31,557. The Mancos starting salary is slightly lower at $30,820, while the Dolores rate is comparable at $31,500.
In contrast, the Durango starting salary is $40,000, and the Central Consolidated School District in Shiprock, N.M., offers a $41,000 starting salary.
The cost to property owners would be determined based on every $100,000 assessed valuation, according to Haukeness.
For residential properties, this cost would come out to $3 per month per $100,000 value, and for commercial properties, that would be $12.08 for the same amount.
On the school safety front, the district would use the funds to pay for law enforcement security for after-school events, assist with funding school resource officers, and to fund a half-time school safety specialist.
On Tuesday night, discussion centered around whether or not to explicitly state that tax increase revenues will not be used toward administration salaries, since that was a worry expressed by many in the community.
“They want to see it in writing,” said Board Vice President Sheri Noyes.
In the end, they decided not to explicitly add language about the administration, though. Other board members felt they should include that component in their messaging instead, and to not get lost in the “minutiae.”
“We shouldn’t be having to jump through hoops to try to convince people that aren’t going to vote for it anyway,” said director Lance McDaniel.