Colorado state Sen. Michael Johnston speaks with Routt County superintendents and other education officials in November during a work session in Oak Creek. Educators in Steamboat Springs are concerned Johnston's proposed changes to the school finance formula could cost them state funding.

Photo by Scott Franz

Colorado state Sen. Michael Johnston speaks with Routt County superintendents and other education officials in November during a work session in Oak Creek. Educators in Steamboat Springs are concerned Johnston's proposed changes to the school finance formula could cost them state funding.

Steamboat Springs educators concerned by early drafts of Senate bill seeking major changes to school finance formula

Advertisement

— The Steamboat Springs School District is among a small group of districts in Colorado that could lose a significant portion of their state funding under a new Senate bill exepected to be introduced this session.

The bill being crafted by state Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, is expected to seek sweeping changes to the formula used to determine how much each district receives if voters in November will approve $1 billion to $1.5 billion in additional revenue for public education in the state.

But educators here said Monday they are concerned by the early drafts of the bill, which they say appears to put Steamboat Springs on a list of “losing” districts that could be asked to seek more funding from their local taxpayers to free up dollars at the state level.

Paula Stephenson, the executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, fears the bill could create a “Robin Hood” scenario where wealthier districts are tapped to seek more revenue from their taxpayers.

“Based on the concept paper (of the bill) and the initial financial runs I've seen, there are about 20 districts in the state that will be losers under the new formula, and Steamboat is one of them,” Stephenson said.

She said because of its higher assessed property values and median income, the Steamboat Springs School District, along with 19 other districts in mountain resort and mineral-rich communities, stand to lose a significant share of their state funding if Johnston's bill aims to equalize the percentage of funding school districts receive from the state and their local taxpayers.

Other districts on the list with Steamboat include the school systems in Durango, Aspen, Bayfield, Ignacio and Aguilar.

Stephenson added the bill could push those districts to go to voters for more local revenue via increased taxes.

“I'm still surprised that there seem to be immediate winners and losers (in this bill) because the goal of the initial conversations was to make districts whole and add to their revenue,” she said. “I don't want the state to create a Robin Hood scenario.”

She said an early financial analysis of the proposed changes to the finance formula shows they could increase the amount of funding the neighboring Hayden and South Routt school districts receive from the state by hundreds of thousands of dollars, while cutting about $2.2 million, or 10 percent, of Steamboat's state funding.

Determining a fair share

In November, Johnston met with several local superintendents in the South Routt School District's administrative offices to gauge the educators' reaction to his push for additional education funding.

Many of his ideas, including a plan to allow district's to receive funding for students who enroll after the annual Oct. 1 official headcount, were well received.

Johnston said Monday it's still too early to say how his bill will financially impact school districts in Routt County, and he hopes to have his bill introduced in the coming weeks.

He said he doesn't think there will be any “losers” as a result of the legislation.

“The policy is changing day to day,” Johnston said about the bill, adding there have been more than 150 drafts with varying financial implications for school districts. “I'm confident we'll have a proposal that will have winners and bigger winners, and there will be big support for rural districts across the state.”

He said he and other legislators have been exploring for about a year the concept of equalizing the ratio of state and local funding school districts receive. He said at one point in Colorado's history, school districts received 70 percent of their funding locally and 30 percent from the state.

“But over the past 25 years, that equation has been reversed,” he said. “One reason we've seen so many drastic cuts to schools is that their budgets are so tied now to the state budget. ... We think re-establishing more of a local (funding) balance protects the long-term investment in K-12 education.”

He said his bill will aim to fix a funding formula that allows some school districts in the state with very high property values and median incomes but low mills to receive a significantly higher amount of state funding than neighboring communities that are taxing themselves at a higher rate but receiving far less from the state.

Johnston said that if some districts do end up losing a portion of state funding, he envisions there will be a five-year “hold harmless period” during which districts will maintain their current funding levels while they figure out how to increase their local revenues.

“There is no district that would see fewer dollars the year after this passed than they do currently,” Johnston said. “There would be be a five-year window of time to see if they want to adjust their local mills.”

Johnston told local superintendents last year any changes to the finance formula would be dependent on the passage of a tax increase to support public education.

First read concerning

Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks said Monday the district has many questions about how the bill is coming together, but the initial reads of the proposal have him concerned.

“It's never pleasant to go through a formula change and find out you're on the side that's going to lose funding,” Meeks said. “We're thinking we're going to see a light, and now we've potentially got a $2 million problem. That's over 10 percent of our budget. My biggest concern is informing the public on what's going on locally if this should come to fruition.

"We'll have to explain why we're going backwards and other districts are moving forward, and we'll have to go out and potentially ask people to increase taxes just to maintain the status quo. That is not an enviable position to be in.”

Stephenson, whose Rural Schools Caucus represents more than 100 rural districts in the state, said she appreciates the work Johnston has put into the bill, including his outreach efforts to her organization and with educators across the state.

“I think right now Senator Johnston is trying to walk a tight rope of balancing politics and policy,” she said, adding that she fears "politics may win out" and the proposal may not benefit all school districts. “Right now, it's a waiting game.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 5 months ago

Anyone know the financial effects of out of district students?

That is a topic rarely covered by the newspaper, but it appears that Hayden and Soroco have over 10% of students in their district going to SB schools. Do school districts have a financial incentive to have students leave their district since they retain some funding for that student being taught elsewhere? And thus, losing students leaves more money per student for the district to spend on remaining students.

0

Scott Ford 1 year, 5 months ago

The number of students that are enrolled out of their "home" district is available from the Colorado Department of Education website/ Based on October 2012 Student Count

Parents Live in RE-1 West Routt School District and student attends school outside of home district District • MAPLETON 1 =1 • ADAMS 12 FIVE STAR SCHOOLS = 4 • MOFFAT COUNTY RE: NO 1 = 4 • STEAMBOAT SPRINGS RE-2 = 47 • CHARTER SCHOOL INSTITUTE = 1

Total Out of District Students = 57

Parents live in RE-3 South Routt School District and students attends school outside of home district • STEAMBOAT SPRINGS RE-2 = 59

Parents live in RE-2 Steamboat Springs RE-2 School District and students attends school outside of home district. • MAPLETON 1 = 1 • ADAMS 12 FIVE STAR SCHOOLS =14 • DOUGLAS COUNTY RE 1 = 1 • EAGLE COUNTY RE 50=2 • BRANSON REORGANIZED 82 = 2 • FOWLER R-4J=1 • HAYDEN RE-1 = 8 • SOUTH ROUTT RE 3=3 • JULESBURG RE-1=1

Total Out of District Students = 33

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 5 months ago

Well, the answers the question of numbers. Interesting that much larger SB loses fewer students to other schools than much smaller Hayden and Soroco.

But that doesn;t answer the question of what are the financial effects of out of district students. Seems that enough funding follows the student that SB is willing to accept out of district students without claiming it is too expensive. Seems that enough tax revenues stays in the school district that Hayden and Soroco are not financially squeezed by students leaving.

It would seem that if the state reform is going to bring less state funding per student for a district like SB then accepting out of district students will become more expensive. And thus, there will become pressure for SB to not accept students from either Hayden or Soroco.

I think an unintended consequence of this funding reform could be financial pressure to merge school districts. If SB is going to be treated less favorably by the state then SB has the choice of focusing on itself and not accepting out of district students or providing resources to Soroco and Hayden, or merging with one or both to receive more state funding.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.