Steamboat Springs School Board opposes ballot measures
District finance director concerned about state’s ability to backfill
August 3, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs School Board voted, 4-0, Monday night in favor of a resolution to oppose three November ballot measures that Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said would change the landscape of Colorado's education system.
The School Board approved the resolution from Coloradans for Responsible Reform, a group opposing Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61. The ballot measures are citizen-led initiatives aimed at reducing government spending and reducing taxes.
School Board member Denise Connelly didn't attend Monday's meeting.
Proposition 101 would reduce fees and taxes throughout an extended time period. Amendment 60 would repeal voter-approved revenues over TABOR limits and require school districts to cut their mill levies in half by 2020. Amendment 61 would prohibit the state from borrowing and incurring debt and limit local governments ability to borrow, except when approved by voters.
Finance Director Dale Mellor said passage of Proposition 101 and Amendment 60 would result in lost revenue that the state would have to replace, as mandated by Colorado's Public School Finance Act and Amendment 23.
The Public School Finance Act determines how much state aid school districts receive based on what is not generated by local sources, mostly property taxes. A reduction in local revenue would require more state aid.
Citing a July 8 memo prepared by the Colorado Legislative Council, the nonpartisan research arm of the Colorado General Assembly, Mellor said passage of the ballot measures would result in $2.1 billion in lost revenue for the state (from $6.9 billion to $4.8 billion) and the need to increase funding for K-12 education by $1.6 billion.
"The combined impacts mean that K-12 education funding would require about 99 percent of the (state's) general fund budget," the memo stated. Currently, 46 percent of Colorado's general fund is dedicated to K-12 education.
The memo assumed that all three measures would be fully implemented in 2010-11, not phased in as they have been proposed. It also states that the figures are preliminary and may require clarification from the General Assembly or courts.
Mellor said if the state provided that aid, or backfill, the district would lose two voter-approved mill levy overrides that generate revenue totaling more than $1.47 million. But if the state was unable to backfill, he said the district would immediately have to cut its 2010-11 budget by nearly $2.4 million — a quarter of its specific ownership tax ($307,750) and cutting the mill levy in half throughout a 10-year period ($617,770).
Given Colorado's across-the-board cuts last year, including cuts to K-12 education, Mellor doubts the state's ability to provide that aid.
"The state is not going to have the capacity to backfill the school districts," he said.
In an e-mail received Monday, initiative supporters from Colorado Tax Reforms called the Colorado Legislative Council memo "nonsense." The e-mail, which was in response to a request for comment but did not include an author's name, stated the fact that the measures would take effect throughout a period of years — not immediately after passage — couldn't be ignored.
The e-mail stated that in the 10 years that it will take for Amendment 60 to phase in, state revenue will more than double. It stated that a provision in Proposition 101 to reduce income taxes is meant to slow the rate of increase.
"That's why it's frustrating that school leaders are being deceived into thinking this will hurt their budgets," the e-mail stated. "The cost to school districts is exactly zero. The School Finance Act and Amendment 23 guarantee that."
After the meeting, School Board member Lisa Brown sighed and paused when asked why she voted in support of the resolution to oppose the three ballot measures. She said there were many reasons.
"I think you'll find it's not in the best interest of Colorado students and citizens," she said.
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