Election Guide 2016: Referendum 3C — Tax increase for full-day kindergarten | SteamboatToday.com

Election Guide 2016: Referendum 3C — Tax increase for full-day kindergarten

Teresa Ristow

Kindergartner Maya Peilet, right, visits with her classmate Gracey Keller, during the first day of school at Soda Creek Elementary in 2015.

— The Steamboat Springs Board of Education voted in August for the school district to let voters decide whether to approve Referendum 3C, a mill levy override to fund free all-day kindergarten in the city.

Currently, the state funds kindergarten at only 58 percent of the cost that districts spend to educate kindergartens for a full day, leading many districts to charge tuition or absorb the extra costs into their general fund.

Colorado only requires that districts offer half-day kindergarten programs, and while legislators previously pledged to increase the level of kindergarten funding each year until full-day programs were funded, those increases stalled when 58 percent funding was reached.

Proponents of the mill levy say the money generated from the tax would ensure all students have the opportunity to attend a full-day program regardless of their family's ability to pay. In the past, district tuition has fluctuated and has been as high as $2,400 per student.

While some scholarships were offered in the past, proponents believe some families struggle to afford the tuition but do not seek financial assistance.

"This evens the playing field," said Carol Harris, a kindergarten teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary.

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While there is no formal opposition to the mill levy, supporters said they've heard some people believe kindergarten is no different than daycare, which shouldn't be supported by taxes.

Harris said kindergarten instruction today is much more complex than a daycare program, and the second half of a kindergartener's day can include instruction in Spanish, music, art and physical education.

It's also the time of the day when special services, like speech, academic intervention and English language learner services take place. If a student only attends for a half-day, those supports will take place in the morning, cutting into core English and math instruction.

"Doing interventions now, it's going to save the students a lot of time later trying to catch up, and it also saves us resources," Harris said.

The proposed tax will vary each year and generate enough money to match the approximate number of students enrolled in kindergarten, but the ballot language is phrased so that up to $950,000 can be collected in the event that enrollment or funding levels significantly increase over the years.

In a year with 170 kindergarten students (a few more than this year), the tax would generate about $530,000.

With 170 students, the estimated impact to a residential homeowner would be $5 per $100,000 of value, or $25 annually on a home with an assessed value of $500,000.

For a commercial property owner in the same scenario, the impact would be $18.50 per $100,000 of assessed value, or $185 annually for a commercial property valued at $1 million.

"It's a small tax," said Chris Hamsher, a local attorney who is leading the Full Day K for Steamboat campaign.

Hamsher, the father of a 10-month-old son, said he sympathizes with business owners who pay a disproportionately higher share of taxes than homeowners, but he believes the cost will be worth it for future kindergartners and provide a return on investment for educators.

"I think we can afford to make a small and relatively valuable commitment to our kids," Hamsher said.

Hamsher said he's heard from people who mistakenly believe that because of the way the ballot language is worded, the district could collect the full $950,000 regardless of how many students are enrolled.

By state statute, the district could not collect more than was needed for kindergarten, Hamsher said.

The tax would stop being collected if the state began funding full-day kindergarten.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

Referendum 3C ballot language:

Shall Steamboat Springs School District No. RE-2 taxes be increased up to $950,000 annually beginning in 2017 for the purpose of providing funding for full-day kindergarten program costs for those parents who choose to participate in the full-day program (or such lesser amount as is permitted under section 22-54-108.5); and shall the district be authorized to collect, retain and spend all revenues from such taxes and the earnings from the investment of such revenues as a voter approved revenue change and an exception to the limits which would otherwise apply under Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution?