Projected financial impact of Johnston's bill per student
•Steamboat Springs: +$485*
•South Routt: +$583
•Moffat County: +$1,264
*dependent on passage of property tax increase within five years
Source: Sen. Mike Johnston
Steamboat Springs School districts in Northwest Colorado now have their first official projection of what their budgets would look like if state Sen. Mike Johnston is successful in changing how schools in the state are funded.
Financial runs released last week by Johnston, D-Denver, confirm that under a bill he is proposing to tweak the school finance formula, the Hayden, South Routt and Moffat County school districts would permanently receive more state funding per student, but the Steamboat Springs School District's financial gains would be only temporary.
Steamboat is one 24 school districts in the state that would have to either seek a property tax increase from voters within five years, or start to lose dollars from the state.
Steamboat Springs School District Finance Director Dale Mellor projects that under Johnston's bill, the district would have to seek between $2.2 million and $2.6 million in additional property taxes each year from voters to offset potential cuts in state funding.
He said that is concerning because the senator's proposed changes to the school finance formula are dependent on Colorado voters approving a major statewide tax increase in November to boost funding for public schools.
“Our point is the state will be asking voters to come up with around $1 billion for education, and then our district is going to have to go back to our own voters and ask for more money,” Mellor said. “It's almost like we're double dipping here.”
Mellor said he doesn't object to Johnston's goal of trying to make the school finance formula more equitable for all districts by asking some with higher assessed property values and median incomes to bump up the amount of funding they get locally.
“I don't disagree with the premise that some of these districts can afford to pay more for their share, and I understand Steamboat is one of those districts because we have such high assessed property value,” Mellor said. “I just don't want to go to voters twice for the same thing.”
He said he would rather see the bill automatically increase the property tax rates in the 24 districts that stand to lose state funding, but there are varying legal opinions as to whether that would be allowed.
According to the financial analysis of Johnston's bill, Steamboat Springs would receive $485 more per enrolled student for five years after the changes start; Hayden would permanently receive $405 more; South Routt would gain $583; and Moffat County would see the largest increase with $1,264 more per student.
The projections assume enrollment will increase at the school districts.
“Everyone is winning; there aren't any districts that aren't getting more investment,” Johnston told the Denver Post last week.
Johnston's bill also will seek to have the state fully fund kindergarten programs at public schools.
The state currently provides 58 percent of the funding.