Amendment 39 and Referendum J on the Nov. 7 ballot would require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their operational budgets on classroom instruction.
The two measures are different in that Amendment 39 is an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that can only be changed by statewide vote, while Referendum J would be added to the Colorado Revised Statutes and could be amended by the Legislature. They also differ in their definitions of "classroom instruction."
No matter - both should be defeated.
Amendment 39 narrowly defines classroom instruction as teachers, aides, books, computers, field trips athletics, arts and music. Items that are not included in classroom instruction are principals, bus drivers, food service workers, guidance counselors, school nurses, building maintenance workers or central administration functions.
Referendum J would add principals, support staff and support services provided at the school level to the definition. The referendum also would require school districts to submit uniform annual budgets to the state.
Proponents argue that Amendment 39 would increase classroom spending without increasing taxes and establish a minimum standard for school district spending that every taxpayer deserves.
We disagree. Amendment 39 strips communities of the power to determine how best to spend their tax dollars and educate their children. The Steamboat Springs School District already spends more than 65 percent of its operational budget on classroom instruction. Still, we believe that our School Board should have the flexibility to respond to Steamboat's educational needs as it sees fit.
Referendum J's definition of classroom instruction is so broad that every school district in the state likely already meets its requirements. Therefore, the only new requirement is the submission of a budget to the state. This seems to be an unnecessary level of bureaucracy, because every school district already is subject to annual outside audits.
Amendment 39 and Referendum J attempt to apply a one-size-fits-all spending approach to school districts with different needs, challenges and populations. They would remove local control - and by extension, local accountability - for spending decisions.
Vote "no" on Amendment 39, and vote "no" on Referendum J.