Jim Gill: School district can’t exclude positive impact of 1/2-cent sales tax
September 26, 2017
I agree that school funding in Colorado has become very challenging (as referenced in a letter to the editor, “Board of Education looks to future,” dated Sept. 15. However, I question the credibility of two of the three points in this letter to justify support for the district ballot question on Nov. 7.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, the per-pupil funding level of $7,408, which ranks the Steamboat Springs School District at 134/178 in the state appears accurate. However, this data does not reflect sources of revenue outside of the state funding formula that a district may receive as our district has since 1994 from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund.
Since this taxing authority was first approved by city of Steamboat Springs voters in 1993 and according to the city, the fund has received $57,080,843.00 from ½ percent sales tax revenue through July 2017 for its annual funding allocations. In 2016 alone, this tax generated $3,615,272.00.
Though an estimate, allocating this 2016 revenue across the 2016-17 CDE Funded Pupil Count in our district of 2,567 students would add $1,408 per pupil to our funding level. Added to the CDE funding level — $7,408 plus $1,408— this higher funding level of $8,816 would rank us 77/178 versus 134/178 in the state.
If per-pupil funding is a metric the school board chooses to use to defend the need for more funding, the positive impact of the ½ percent sales tax revenue on this metric cannot be excluded.
And I'm not questioning city voters’ recent decision to support our neighboring school districts with some of these funds, but for reference, CDE ranks South Routt at 61/178 ($9,891) and Hayden at 64/178 ($9,702) in per pupil funding … these levels don't include any of the revenue received from the education fund.
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The board states our district has been "shorted" $19 million from a state process since 2009 … certainly many other districts around the state were also "shorted" by this process. However, if this shortfall truly resulted in adverse educational impacts on our district students and additional funding was truly required, the fund received $25,763,657.00 from the ½ percent sales tax from 2009 through July 2017.
If the board wants to use the "debit" of being "shorted" $19 million as a justification to support part of the upcoming ballot question, full disclosure would suggest that they should also acknowledge the $25,763,657.00 "credit" they received during this period from the fund. If the fund administrators and/or the school board elected to allocate the fund revenues elsewhere, we shouldn't be surprised that they're not available when needed to help cover a "shortfall.”
Finally, I find irony in the statement by the board that "our schools will require a significant investment from taxpayers to keep pace with Steamboat's population growth.”
As a member of the small group of local volunteers who helped secure the original taxing authority for the ½ percent tax in 1993, helped write the by-laws to create the fund and then served as the first president through 1999, I can accurately state that allocating the ½ percent tax revenue to expenses of the district related to growth in the community and student population was absolutely a critical element of our mission statement and of voter support at that time.
It is perplexing that given the massive revenue stream the fund has provided to the district since 1994 that when the district now says they need additional funding to address "Steamboat's population growth" that all of these funds seem to have been allocated elsewhere.
So now, here we are 23 years and $57,080,843.00 later and the board tells us that we have no other option to provide some badly needed financial support to the district, some of it for future growth needs, than to raise our taxes … again.
Member, Steamboat Springs Board of Education, 1993-1999
President, Steamboat Springs Education Fund, 1993-1999, 2000-2001