School finance bill continues to draw a lot of chatter, concern in Steamboat school district

School Board says potential cuts in state funding could put district in difficult position

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It still hasn't been introduced, but a Senate bill expected to seek major changes to how schools in Colorado are funded continues to attract a lot of chatter and concern in the Steamboat Springs School District.

Members of the Steamboat Springs School Board said Monday night that their district would find itself in a difficult position if the early read of state Sen. Mike Johnston's bill proves correct and the legislation cuts a significant amount of state funding from Steamboat's budget.

Johnston, D-Denver, is seeking 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.

Paula Stephenson, executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, told the School Board in a legislative update Monday night that Steamboat still appears to be on a list of 24 “losing” districts that could be asked to seek more funding from their local taxpayers to free up dollars at the state level.

She said early calculations of the financial impact of the bill on the district shows it stands to lose $2.2 million in state funding, while neighboring Hayden and South Routt would gain hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.

Noting they recently have weathered years of budget cuts, board members were concerned by that potential outcome.

“It's difficult for us since there are just 24 districts that potentially will be (hurt by this bill) and they don't have a lot of political clout,” board member Denise Connelly said. “It puts us in a very difficult position.”

Connelly also shared her concern about the bill with state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, on Sunday during a town hall meeting.

The 24 out of 178 districts in the state that have the potential to lose funding mostly are mountain-resort communities or districts that get a high amount of funding from mineral rights.

Stephenson said Steamboat is on the list because of its high assessed property values and high median income.

But she said the districts on the list may have more clout than they expect.

“There are lots of phone calls that have been made and lots of conversations that have happened since these numbers were released,” Stephenson said referring to the early financial analysis of Johnston's proposed changes to the state's school finance formula. “I don't think the (proposed) formula will satisfy a lot of districts.”

Sen. Johnston told the Steamboat Today last week that it was too early how the final version of his legislation will effect each district in the state financially.

But he said there wouldn't be any losers, only “winners and bigger winners.”

He added that the legislation will seek to fix a funding formula that allows some districts 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.

“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.”

Board member Robin Crossan suggested the district start to determine what impact the anticipated cut in state funding would look like.

She added the information could be released to community members along with contact information for Johnston and others working on the bill.

Stephenson said there won't be much time to change the legislation once it's introduced, and her latest reads of the proposal lead her to believe Steamboat is likely to be negatively impacted by it.

“There are certain areas he's not moving off of, and (equalizing) the state and local share I think is one of those areas,” Stephenson said of Johnston. “I think everyone is trying to get the broadest political coalition they can for this and bring (Gov. John Hickenlooper on board), and that has caused them to make some decisions that I don't personally think are in the best interest of our students.”

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

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