Voters in the Montezuma-Cortez School District once again rejected the district’s request for a property tax increase to raise teacher salaries.
It was a solid no vote for Ballot Measure 4A Tuesday night, with 45% voting in favor of the measure and 55% against it, based on the latest unofficial results. The Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 was seeking to pass 5 mills, which comes out to just under $2.9 million.
Superintendent Lori Haukeness said she was very disappointed in the results and that teachers deserve more. She added that Re-1 would have to look at its budget closely in the coming year.
“As the Superintendent I am disappointed, but I respect the will of the voters,” Haukeness said in a statement. “However, we still need to increase salaries to be competitive locally and nationally. We will need to make hard choices to ensure that we are able to attract and retain quality teachers.”
This wasn’t the district’s first attempt to pass a mill levy override. Re-1’s 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 the timing was off.
The school board began discussing the possibility of trying once more for a mill levy earlier this year, debating the likelihood of it passing versus the need to raise teacher salaries in order to compete with neighboring districts. They decided in May to put the proposal on the ballot.
Since then, board members, school staff and administrators, and community supporters have joined in a “For Our Kids’ Future” campaign to promote the measure’s passage. The campaign focused on the need for more competitive teacher salaries to help attract and retain high-quality teachers.
“On average, teachers in the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 make $8,500 below the highest annual salary in area districts,” stated a mailer sent out to local voters ahead of the election.
Currently, the starting salary in Re-1 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree is a little over $31,500, according to Haukeness.
In recent years, some local teachers have begun commuting to Durango or Shiprock, New Mexico, both of which have higher starting salaries. Durango’s starting salary is about $40,000, while a first-year teacher in Shiprock’s Central Consolidated School District can earn about $41,000.
They also emphasized the need to increase the pool of experienced teachers. In the 2018-19 school year, the Re-1 turnover rate was about 24%, compared with a statewide rate of approximately 16%, according to Haukeness.
All 4A funds would have gone toward teacher and support staff salaries, along with security measures including funding for school resource officers and law enforcement security for after-school events.