The leaders of the Montezuma-Cortez School District met with stakeholders on Thursday to plan for their second try at passing a mill levy increase.
Ballot Measure 3B, which would have funded staff salary increases, bus and technology improvements for the district by raising property taxes, failed in the November election. On Thursday, they asked more than 20 district staff, parents, city officials and interested citizens gathered at First National Bank to give their input on what went wrong last time, and how to do better the next time.
District Superintendent Lori Haukeness and school board member Jack Schuenemeyer didn’t say when they plan to pursue another mill levy, but they did say they want to start forming a campaign strategy soon. They asked the audience for suggestions on how to improve the bond issue and the way it’s presented to the public.
“We really need to work closer with the community,” Haukeness told the stakeholders. “Our goal is to listen to you.”
As the audience offered suggestions, Human Resources Director Dan Porter wrote them on large pieces of paper attached to the windows. After about an hour of discussion, everyone in the meeting was invited to place stickers next to the three issues they felt were most important for the district to address.
A common theme in the audience input was that the bond issue’s wording needed to be clearer. Several people pointed out that much of Measure 3B’s trouble came from its open-ended language, which did not appear to guarantee the mill levy revenue would be spent only on teachers and technology, and did not set an end date for the tax.
Nicci Crowley, the parent-teacher association president for Mesa Elementary School, said the measure’s language stoked pre-existing doubt about the district’s leadership.
“I think there is still a lot of distrust from previous administration,” she said. “Everything I saw was, ‘How are you going to guarantee that this money will be spent where it needs to go?’”
Some people said the district could do better at marketing the mill levy.
Mary Dodd, of the Montelores Early Childhood Council, said the stories that advocates shared about the hardships faced by bus drivers and other staff members under the current budget did a better job of convincing her that the district needed the revenue than the statistics that the district put out.
Several other people said they believed the district released its plans for the added revenue too close to the election. Haukeness publicly released a spending plan for the bus and technology portion, which would have included about 25 percent of the estimated $2.7 million the mill levy would have raised, on Nov. 3, just four days before the Nov. 7 election. Former school board member Pete Montaño said that, because of the campaign’s emphasis on technology, he didn’t realize 75 percent of the funds were intended for staff salaries until after the election.
Another frequent suggestion, which Haukeness openly supported, was that the district’s messaging should focus more on the positive things it has achieved over the past few years, such as the new Montezuma-Cortez High School and several highly achieving students, like this year’s four Daniels Scholarship winners. Dodd and others said people might be more inclined to vote for a mill levy if they had confidence the district was already making progress with what it has.
Haukeness and Schuenemeyer said the district will put together a steering committee in the near future to advise the school board on the mill levy, taking the public’s suggestions into account.
“We’re going to do this,” Schuenemeyer said to close the meeting.