Our View: Vote ‘yes’ on 3A, 3B | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Vote ‘yes’ on 3A, 3B

In the coming weeks, South Routt voters will decide whether to raise their taxes to provide additional funding to the South Routt School District.

Voters often are hesitant to increase taxes, particularly for an entity that already constitutes a majority of their tax burden. But we think referendums 3A and 3B are necessary for a school district that has been severely impacted by decreasing student enrollment during the past decade. We urge South Routt residents to vote “yes” on the referendums.

Referendum 3A is a mill levy override that would raise up to $360,000 a year for the district’s general fund. According to the ballot language, those funds will be used to:

– Maintain the district’s current education programs

– Address those programs and extracurricular activities that have been eliminated or reduced because of recent budget cuts

– Attract and retain qualified teachers

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– Maintain low class sizes

– Implement a bus replacement program

– Cover rising fuel, insurance and other operational expenses

During the past decade, South Routt schools have seen an enrollment decrease of 60 students. Because Colorado public schools are funded on a per pupil basis, such an enrollment decrease has a significant impact on district revenues.

At the same time district enrollment is decreasing, operating expenses are increasing at a rate of 11 percent a year. The district’s health insurance costs, for example, have risen 18 percent a year for each of the past three years. With revenue increasing between only 1 and 2 percent a year, South Routt school officials have been forced to cut staffing levels, education programming and other expenses. This year, the district won’t put any funds toward bus and vehicle replacement, and it continues to pay its starting teachers less than any other district in the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“Right now it’s the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and we can’t continue to do that,” South Routt Superintendent Kelly Reed said. “What we’re trying to do now is put back some of those things that we’ve had to cut.”

While Referendum 3A would provide funds for general operating expenses, Referendum 3B would raise the $1.57 million needed to replace the district’s aging coal-fired boilers with clean, energy efficient, ground-source heating systems. Including interest, the total cost to taxpayers likely would be $2.595 million by the time the debt is paid off in 2021.

There is little doubt the school district needs to replace its 50-year-old boilers. The boilers already have doubled their estimated lifespan, and district officials estimate 30 percent of the school system’s maintenance costs are related to their upkeep.

The Colorado Department of Education recognized the need to replace the boilers when it awarded the district a $1.57 million Capital Construction Grant. The grant funds are contingent on the district providing a matching $1.57 million.

Approving referendums 3A and 3B would result in a net tax increase of 1 mill for South Routt School District voters, relative to what they currently pay in taxes. For the average South Routt homeowner, the increase would be $18 a year on their $236,000 home. It’s a reasonable increase we think is necessary for the success of the school district.

Vote “yes” on referendums 3A and 3B.