Meeting for the first time since voters rejected its property tax increase, the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School Board on Tuesday discussed short-term solutions for its budget until it can put the tax back on the ballot in 2018.
Voters rejected the school district’s request to raise property taxes on Nov. 7 by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent.
Ballot Measure 3B asked voters whether the school board should be authorized to raise and spend additional property tax revenues by 4.96 mills a year, about $2.7 million for collection in 2018, and by whatever amounts the tax increase generated each following year. It stated that the revenue was to be deposited in the district’s general fund and used for purposes approved by the board, including buses, technology and salaries. Almost 80 percent of the $2.7 million had been assigned to staff salaries.
Some voters expressed concerns that spending would be difficult to track and would not be limited to buses, salaries and technology. They said the plan lacked accountability.
On Tuesday, the board indicated it was headed back to the drawing board.
Superintendent Lori Haukeness said issues that would have been addressed with the tax money still exist.
“We will obviously be looking at what are some short-term things we can do,” Haukeness told The Journal. “We will be working to address the community input and the concerns they expressed, so there will be a real focus to address those and add clarity for the community.” Haukeness said she planned to help clear things up in her next column on The Journal’s Opinion page.
President Jack Schuenemeyer, who was re-elected unopposed on Nov. 7, asked board members to discuss ideas openly.
“My sense in terms of a path forward would be open it up and get some ideas,” he said. “At this point, it is too early to critique ideas. Let’s just throw a bunch of ideas on the table.”
Board members discussed short-term possibilities such as cutting programs in the school district.
Schuenemeyer told the story of a district that reduced its sports program to an intramural model after its tax proposal failed.
“I think the board may have to take some rather bold action,” Schuenemeyer said. “I don’t know, but it is certainly a possibility.”
Board member Sherri Wright encouraged the board to pause and evaluate where the district stands and what its options might be.
“We are going to have to stop and analyze and look at things and determine what we can do, but there are so many different options out there,” Wright said.
Board members agreed to be more transparent and address concerns before putting the mill levy question before voters next year.
“A lot of the stuff that you read on Facebook and whatnot, there were a lot of questions and misinformation even though we had the meetings,” board member Sheri Noyes said. “Our first thing is to get those questions answered out into the public.” Noyes was re-elected to the board, defeating Geof Byerly.
Haukeness encouraged the board to address questions about “why” the property tax is needed.
“We need to figure out how we can educate the community and get all the voters on board, not just enough to win, but a landslide where they feel good that we are doing the right thing,” board member Brian Balfour said.
Balfour, who won re-election over Tiffany Cheney, also said that he did not think the public understood that the board was making an annual commitment to teachers’ salaries.
“I think you can still assure people, once you have committed 80 percent of what we were asking for as salaries, that is as good of a commitment as you are ever going to get,” Balfour said. “You are not going to go and take that away from our staff someday.”
The board also considered, at length, the importance of technology in today’s economy.
“If we want our kids to have the opportunities to be competitive in a literal world market, it is going to require a high-quality education, and it is going to require a knowledge of technology,” Schuenemeyer said. “Regardless of what you do, somehow technology is clearly essential.”