Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles on school ballot measures.
Colorado’s statewide Amendment 73 would increase funding for local school districts. But local districts aren’t counting on its passage and are asking voters in the Nov. 6 general election to support them through bond issues and tax increases.
In all, five Pikes Peak region school districts have placed six measures on the ballot. Below is information about the measures in Harrison School District 2 and Manitou Springs School District 14, and Amendment 73.
Harrison District 2
Harrison School District 2 consists of 13 elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, a K-8 community school, a Career Readiness Academy, a Homeschool Academy, five charter schools and a preschool program. More than 12,000 students are enrolled.
“Having not passed a bond in 17 years, our greatest need is infrastructure,” said Wendy Birhanzel, one of two chief operating officers who head the district.
Although the district “has been a good steward of money and is in a good place financially, we have lost over $90 million because the state has underfunded education,” Birhanzel said.
Ballot Issue 4E asks voters to approve a $180 million bond issue, with repayment costs of up to $335 million, and a tax increase of up to $16.2 million annually for capital improvements and renovations throughout the district.
Safety, security, technology and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance improvements are needed throughout the district. Eroded pipes that supply drinking water must be replaced. Floors are shifting because of expansive soils, creating safety issues. Some schools need new roofs and HVAC systems.
While infrastructure needs top the list, technology upgrades also are considered essential.
“We had an issue forum at one of the high schools,” Birhanzel said. “They wanted people to Tweet in their questions, but the auditorium couldn’t handle that.
“We want to make sure we are educating students for new high-tech jobs. We are not set to do that unless we make investments in our buildings and technology so that we can give our students that competitive edge.”
Anthony Carlson, who is managing the campaign for the ballot issue, noted that voters in other local school districts have supported increases to make up for decreased state funding.
“District 2 isn’t asking for bells and whistles but the same opportunities that other kids have,” Carlson said.
According to Public Information Officer Christine O’Brien, taxes for homeowners would increase by $8.09 a month per $100,000 of assessed value if the measure passes.
Commercial property owners would pay an additional $32.57 per month for every $100,000 of assessed value.
Disclosure: The Business Journal announced its support of Ballot Issue 4E in the Oct. 12 edition.
Manitou Springs School District 14
District 14 serves about 1,400 students at two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.
In 2015, voters passed a mill levy increase that allowed the district to collect $1.8 million in additional taxes. The measure capped the mill levy at 52 mills. But the capped amount has not produced the $1.8 million increase voters approved; it is falling short by about $700,000 a year, Superintendent Ed Longfield said.
The district also has lost $12 million in the past nine years from state funding cuts.
Bond Issue 4F asks voters to remove the cap, Longfield said. The board of education would set the mill levy amount each year.
“It gives the board of education flexibility based on community input and what the district needs,” Longfield said. “They can say, ‘This year the district needs 54 mills because we would like to replace the boiler in one of the elementary schools.’ They can also lower the rate.”
Longfield said the district’s greatest needs are recruitment and retention of teachers and staff, mental health support services for students and around $3 million in capital needs that have gone unmet because of state funding cutbacks.
“We have teachers with kids that qualify for free and reduced[-price] lunches because they don’t make enough money,” Longfield said.
The current 52 mills amount to about $374 a year, or about $31 a month per $100,000 of residential value, Longfield said. An increase to 55 mills would increase the levy by about $21 per year.
“Even at 60 mills, it would be only $5 a month,” Longfield said.
Commercial property owners currently pay $1,508 per $100,000 of assessed value, Longfield said. At 55 mills per $100,000, their taxes would rise by $87 annually or $7.25 a month.
Amendment 73 aims to fix the state funding shortfalls to which Longfield and Birhanzel referred.
The state’s voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment to increase funding for K-12 education.
“Amendment 23 required the state to increase funding by the rate of inflation plus 1 percent for 10 years and just inflation after that, plus pupil growth,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer at Colorado Springs School District 11. “Everything worked fine for the first 10 years. Then the Great Recession hit.”
After the 2009-10 school year, “the state had to start cutting,” Gustafson said. “Some fairly sharp people got a legal opinion that Amendment 23 protected the base amount but not the per pupil amount, so they lowered the per pupil amount. At the highest point, D-11 was losing $1,000 per pupil.”
Gustafson estimated that D-11, which serves about 26,500 students, has lost more than $260.7 million since 2009. The funding loss now is down to about $200 per pupil. But although the state raised the base amount, some rural districts are losing up to $2,000 per student per year, he said.
According to the fiscal impact statement developed by the Colorado Legislative Council, Amendment 73 would raise an additional $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2019-20 to support schools.
Coloradans who earn up to $150,000 a year would keep paying the 4.63 percent state income tax rate they currently pay. For higher earners, an estimated 8 percent of individual and joint filers, the state income tax on federal taxable income would increase by:
• 0.37 percent for income between $150,000 and $200,000;
• 1.37 percent for income between $200,000 and $300,000;
• 2.37 percent for income between $300,000 and $500,000; and
• 3.62 percent for income above $500,000.
The measure also increases the state corporate income tax rate for domestic and foreign C corporations doing business in Colorado from 4.63 percent to 6 percent, a 1.37 percent increase. S corporations are not affected.
The amendment also would reduce and fix the assessment rates for school district property taxes from 7.2 percent to 7 percent for residential and from 29 percent to 24 percent for commercial property.
According to the legislative council, because the residential assessment rate for residential property owners in 2019 under current state law is projected to be 6.1 percent, the amendment would result in a tax increase for residential property owners.