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Ballot measures would slash school funding in Routt County

How Proposition 101 would affect Routt County schools

At a glance

The measures and affects on schools:

■ Proposition 101 would reduce taxes and fees, mostly vehicle fees called “specific ownership taxes” that help fund school districts.

■ Amendment 60 would impose stricter limits on property taxes and require school districts to cut their mill levies in half by 2020.

■ Amendment 61 would limit local school districts from borrowing money and operating in debt, and the interest-free loan program would end.

DECIDE moves forward

A ballot measure to give legislators the discretion to raise taxes to fund education cleared another hurdle last week.

The Senate Education Committee by a 5-3 vote on Thursday approved DECIDE, or Decide: Education Cuts or Invest in our Democracy and Economy, a measure proposed by the Great Futures Colorado coalition, a group created by Great Education Colorado.

Great Education Colorado is a nonpartisan advocacy group for the state’s schools.

The House Education Committee previously approved DECIDE by an 8-4 vote.

Because it’s a “referred measure,” the Colorado House and Senate would have to approve it by a two-thirds majority.

The measure will go next to the Senate Finance Committee, said Liane Morrison, executive director of Great Education Colorado.

— Consider this: Revenue for Routt County school districts from specific ownership taxes would dwindle from $1.7 million in 2009 to $22,791 with full implementation of Proposition 101. If you're a registered Colorado voter and plan to cast a ballot in November, you will.

In addition to deciding on Proposition 101, voters will be asked to weigh in on Amendments 60 and 61.

Amendment 60 would force districts to slash their mill levies in half by 2020 and repeal voter-approved tax increases, such as mill levy overrides. Amendment 61 would place strict limitations on state and local governments' ability to borrow money and incur debt.

All three petition-led initiatives are aimed at decreasing taxes and reducing government spending.

The ballot measures come at a time when public K-12 education statewide has been cut by $260 million to help address the state's 2010-11 fiscal year budget shortfall. Education officials expect state cuts to continue for the next two years.

The Steamboat Springs School District next year expects to have to cut about $2 million, or 7.5 percent, from its budget. It cut half a million this year and estimates that it will have to cut an additional million each in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

School Board member Brian Kelly, who is monitoring what's happening in Denver, estimated that the three ballot measures would cost the district about half of its operating revenue, and that doesn't include future cuts from the state.

About 83 percent of the revenue for the district's 2010-11 projected budget comes from property taxes, mill levy overrides and specific ownership taxes. Each of the three sources would be significantly reduced, or eliminated, with the passage of Proposition 101 and Amendment 60.

"I don't know how you would operate the district as we know it under those budget constraints," Kelly said.

The numbers

Denver-based nonprofit The Bell Policy Center, which resear­ches initiatives that affect Colo­ra­do residents, has estimated that full implementation of Proposition 101 would cost the state more than $2.3 billion in lost revenue, which includes about $622 million for local governments and school districts.

Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said all three measures could cost the state $4 billion in revenue. He said it's important to consider schools because 48 percent of the state's budget funds K-12 and higher education.

"We've experienced a statewide reduction this year in K-12 education funding," he said. "If these measures pass, they will be devastating for education funding in Colorado. … We think that's short-sighted to consider these measures, especially in these economic times."

Based on preliminary calculations, Caughey said passage of the three ballot measures would result in 5,000 to 7,000 teachers getting laid off statewide, class sizes increasing and school closings.

At its last legislative meeting, Caughey said, CASE took a position to oppose all three measures.

The Bell Policy Center has started researching how Prop­osition 101 would affect each county in the state and last week completed an evaluation of Routt County.

According to Bell, the average cost last year to register a vehicle in the county was $91.35. Under Proposition 101, it would cost $1 for used vehicles and $2 for new vehicles.

Routt County generated about $3.08 million from specific ownership taxes, or vehicle registration taxes, in 2009. Under full implementation of Proposition 101, which would take four years, the revenue generated by the county in 2009 would decrease to $40,409 — a 98.7 percent reduction.

"That's not me, the think tank guy, estimating that," said Bell Communications Director Joe Watt, who is researching the impact of Proposition 101 for each county. "That's a pure and simple math calculation."

Schools, which receive the most revenue from specific ownership taxes, more than 56 percent, would be the biggest losers.

Specifically, Steamboat's per-pupil revenue from specific ownership taxes would decrease from $665 in 2009 to $8.74 if voters approved Proposition 101.

Caughey added that the public school finance formula determines the state funding share, or equalization, based on what isn't generated by local property taxes and other sources of local revenue.

"How is the state going to do that with so much less money?" he asked. "I just don't see how it's going to happen."

The next steps

Caughey said a big part of what the Colorado Association of School Executives does until November would be educating its members about the impacts of Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61. He said it's important to reach out to school leaders and members of communities to inform them about the measures so people "don't go blindly forward and vote 'yes.'"

Routt County Finance Di­­rector Dan Strnad said he has begun discussing with commissioners how the three ballot measures would affect the county. According to the Bell study, Proposition 101 would reduce county revenue from specific ownership taxes from nearly $849,000 in 2009 to $11,153.

Proposition 101 also would slash revenues from specific ownership taxes for entities such as libraries, fire districts, water districts, towns and medical centers.

Commissioner Nancy Staho­viak said that information would be used to help the county educate residents.

School District Finance Di­­rector Dale Mellor is scheduled to give a presentation about the ballot measures to the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night.

Kelly said he hopes Colorado voters consider the impact to school districts when they vote in November.

"I know times are tough, but I hope the citizens of the state have enough sense to not devastate the budgets of the school districts," Kelly said.