District will seek tax increase

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— School officials in Hayden Wednesday night gave a nod to moving forward with plans to place a property tax increase on the November ballot.

The Hayden School Board unanimously gave Superintendent Scott Mader the go-ahead to begin the process of seeking a tax override for the district.

The property tax increase would give the Hayden School District an additional $154,000 annually. If voters approved the tax increase in the fall, the district would use the revenue to raise teacher salaries.

School administrators are concerned the district's base salary cannot compete with neighboring districts.

A first-year teacher in Hayden earns $24,133, while a teacher in Steamboat Springs earns $25,926 the first year. Several teachers have left the district for higher salaries.

The school board exhausted all funding options before deciding to pursue a property tax increase, board member Patty Bruchez said.

Board members mulled the possibility of a half-cent sales tax and considered ways to recruit more students, she said.

Programs, such as the Internet-based S.M.A.R.T. Schools, have already attracted students that might have dropped out earlier.

As the district continues to cut its budget to stifle the blow of declining enrollments, Bruchez said, it must have some other means of generating money.

"This is the only realistic alternative to us getting our salaries so that they compete with districts around us," Mader said.

Preliminary estimates are the proposed tax increase would cost the owner of a $125,000 home an additional $20.76 a year. A $125,000 vacant or commercial property would be taxed an additional $65.81 a year.

The district must seek permission for a tax override from its voters, and the tax override cannot fund more than a 20-percent increase in the district's budget.

School board members are confident they have the backing of voters in the district.

Bruchez said several parents encouraged the school board to make a decision on the tax override so they (the parents) could begin raising awareness about the need for a property tax increase.

"We've had quite a bit of support," she said.

School Board President Kurt Frentress said he thought the district had a good chance of getting the extra funding.

"We wouldn't be going for it if we didn't think so," he said.

The district went to the voters several years ago for a property tax increase to finance the construction of its high school gym.

When the district finished paying off the bonds for the gym's construction, voters allowed the district to keep the $430,000 in extra revenue.

A second property tax increase would give the district the means to keep and attract good teachers, Mader said.

"We are not keeping up," he said. "We need to compete with districts similar to us."

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