School District Re-1 voters said “no” last week to a mill levy increase that would have raised about $2.7 million in its first year to fund teachers’ salaries, technology additions and upgrades, and replace aged school buses.
The initiative was firmly defeated 55 to 45 percent, with a voter turnout of about 36 percent. That was not a close vote, and the turnout indicates a lot of voters felt the need to participate.
What happened? There were indications that some of the opposition stemmed from a lack of trust in the district’s leadership – that the ballot language was not sufficiently precise to keep the district to its promise of spending on salaries, buses and technology.
That is very unfortunate.
Should the district have been clearer in telling voters which programs now will be reduced in size and availability without the additional revenue?
Programs with low student numbers – the kind of programs that offer specialty topics for high or low achievers – and bus routes that families rely on, now face cuts. And if the district follows through with its pre-election statements, technology improvements will be limited.
Teachers’ salaries will not be what they should be, not only because of the importance and demanding nature of teaching, but also because of the competitive nature of today’s marketplace. There are not enough teachers in Colorado to go around, and they are often choosing to teach in districts where salaries are higher.
We’ve heard it said that the worst thing a principal wants to say to a parent is, “We’re relying on substitutes, or someone without a certificate, because we don’t have a teacher for your student’s class.”
Re-1 has been one of a handful of districts in the state with low test scores and struggling to improve them; it has been on the state’s watch list for several years. There are many student successes, largely unpublicized, but the process has required a state-mandated consultant and more focused efforts to raise the averages.
Scores now are a notch higher, showing progress, with a noticeably improved graduation rate. The new high school must be playing a role in the latter. It is easy to imagine that the facilities, which provide a much improved teaching and learning environment, also signal to teachers and students that they have community support. That is good for morale, something which the recent vote undercuts. Good learning performance is critical for an economically and socially thriving community. That comes from positive student and parent attitudes, motivated and high-performing teachers and properly outfitted classrooms. And, reliable school buses to get kids to school.
We expect that the district will be doing a postmortem on the election result, and will begin to plan for its next attempt to add to school revenues.
It is an essential task; Cortez requires good schools.