By Patty Kramer
Goethe said, “Nothing is more dangerous for a new truth than an old misconception.” I have given a great deal of thought to this quote, and how it applies to the upcoming November election. The truth is this…if we want our children to continue to receive a quality education in classrooms that are not over crowded; we need to pass the mill levy override. If we want our students to be able to continue to participate in such programs as band, choir, FBLA, FFA, FCCLA, middle school sports and other non-mandated extracurricular activities, then we have to pass the mill levy override. If we want to continue to hire quality teachers and support staff, then the mill levy has to pass. Having been part of many community discussions lately on the mill levy override, it has become clear that the community still holds many misconceptions about what is being asked for, why we are asking, and how it will impact them. I think the best way to get at the truth is to clear up some of the misconceptions I have heard within the community.
As you may or may not have heard, ballot issue 3M is requesting a mill levy override for the RE-1 Valley School District. This mill levy will increase taxes $2 Million annually over the next five years (2018-2022). Ballot Issue 3M will allow the district to recover a total of $10 Million in lost revenue. While, I know this is a significant amount of money, it is important to understand what got us here, where we are at now, and why the mill levy is needed.
There are three amendments in the Colorado Constitution that have had a significant impact on education funding in Colorado…Gallagher Amendment, TABOR, and Amendment 23. (I don’t have the time to give you the skinny on all of these amendments right now, but if you would like more information check out this website: https://www.greateducation.org/…/Descriptions-Impact-of-Con…. However, Amendment 23 does deserve a little delving into.
In 2000, the voters passed Amendment 23 to try to reverse a decade of budget cuts to Colorado School Districts. Amendment 23 guaranteed that per pupil funding would increase annually at the rate of inflation +1 percent at a minimum, thus setting a floor for school funding. For about 9 years, it was successful. Per pupil spending was back up to about the 1989 rate, adjusted for inflation. However, the inflation measure that Amendment 23 uses is lower than the actual cost increases that districts encounter because of expenses districts face, like health care, transportation, energy, pensions, etc.… So in reality, a districts purchasing power was still below 1989 levels. (https://www.greateducation.org/…/Descriptions-Impact-of-Con…)
Then the Great Recession hit (Dec. 2007-June 2009), making it difficult for the state to balance its budget. At that time, the legislature decided to reinterpret Amendment 23, and Amendment 23 no longer became the floor for school funding, but the ceiling for funding. Their reinterpretation of the Amendment became known as the “negative factor”, now known as the Budget Stabilization or “BS” Factor. This reinterpretation reduced the total amount of program funding and state aid provided to k-12 education in Colorado by billions of dollars. The impact to RE-1 to date is a loss in revenue of $15,002,568. So, what we are really asking for here is just to recover a portion of what the district has lost in funding over the last eight years, which is a total of $10 Million over five years.

Voting our values

Tom WestfallGuest columnist

POSTED:   10/05/2017 09:19:16 PM MDT


If your community was accused of being “child and family friendly,” would there enough evidence to convict? This question poses an interesting challenge for those of us living in the RE-1 Valley School District.

In general the community of Sterling has done an excellent job providing opportunities for children and their families. We are blessed with excellent recreational opportunities, the best parks anywhere in Colorado, programs like Baby Bear Hugs, the Family Resource Center, Hospice of the Plains and many others that seek to fill a specific niche for those in need.

Tom Westfall Guest columnist

Tom Westfall Guest columnist

However when it comes to education, I’m not sure that there is currently enough evidence to “convict” our community of being advocates for children and their families. Over the past few years, the “negative factor” imposed in the state funding formula has reduced funding in our school district by fifteen million dollars, and even though this message has been, proverbially speaking, “shouted from the mountain tops,” the result of last year’s mill levy override vote was a resounding “No.”

At a recent school board workshop, Chris Connor, one of the leaders of Citizens 4 Education provided a terrific analogy that he had used when discussing these cuts with a local farmer who was reluctant to vote for the mill levy override that is on this November’s ballot. Chris said, “Imagine that you’ve sold your crops at market but when you get your payment, it’s 20 percent less that you’d been told.” The farmer responded, “Well that wouldn’t be fair.” Of course it wouldn’t, but that’s what’s happened in Colorado.

Amendment 23, passed in 2000, was an amendment that was supposed to “guarantee” stable funding for our schools. Due to a number of factors however, this hasn’t come to fruition, and school funding in Colorado on a per-pupil basis is now in the bottom ten of all the states, in spite of Colorado’s robust and growing economy. As a cost-cutting measure, nearly half the school districts in the state have now gone to a four-day week, and while some folks support this for a variety of reasons, common sense would suggest to us that the fewer days children are exposed to quality education, the more their learning will suffer.

Here’s the thing my friends— we’ve never let the “State” destroy our vision for a strong community. The state of Colorado isn’t working to revitalize downtown Sterling; we are. The state of Colorado doesn’t care that we have quality medical care and terrific medical facilities; we do. The state of Colorado isn’t providing funding for programs such as Cooperating Ministry of Logan County; we are. In fact most of us support the notion of “the more local control, the better.” We eschew unfunded mandates and believe that we know best when it comes to running our own community, our own lives (and our own businesses.)

In that vein, we have the opportunity to once again assert our “values” relative to our community by voting for the mill levy override in the November election. And assert our values we will. We will either stand tall and pass the mill levy override, or we will forever relegate the role of public education to the status of “not that important.”

One of the most disappointing things I heard at the recent school board workshop was regarding the role that local teachers have played in helping the mill levy override vote campaign. In response to a question about their involvement, Connor stated that the group had received “a very good response from very few.”

For those seemingly few educators that are actively giving of their time to promote the value of additional funding for our schools, thank you. For those that aren’t, shame on you. At the meeting, which included the opportunity for those of us attending to weigh in, I pondered aloud what the teachers’ response would be if they realized that they were going to get a 5 percent reduction in pay if the mill levy override vote didn’t pass.

Although my question was mostly tongue-in-cheek, I remain astounded at the apparent lack of positive engagement among our local teachers. If anyone knows the difficulties that a lack of adequate funding creates, it should be our teachers. I realize that to some extent, their lack of involvement may be a “no-confidence” vote in the school board or the administration, but to me that’s akin to “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

When it comes to raising taxes, none of us is thrilled with the prospect. My taxes, especially on my irrigated farm ground, will see a significant increase if the mill levy override passes, and while I wish the state would just fix the funding mess, I don’t think that’s going to happen — it’s up to us to ensure the future of our children’s education by voting “yes.”

The jury is still out relative to our “conviction” of being a community that supports children and their families. There will never be a better time to send a positive message about how we value education. I’ll be voting “yes” on the mill levy override vote. I hope you’ll join me.

Tom Westfall teaches parenting classes at Family Resource Center.



3M mill levy override provides funding for our future

By Dena VogelGuest columnist

POSTED:   10/09/2017 12:16:36 AM MDT

“I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” These words from Whitney Houston’s 1986 hit single are the best reason for supporting a mill levy override (Ballot Issue 3M) for RE-1. The future of our community, state, country and even world lies in the hands of our children. Someday they will be the business owners, farmers, ranchers, healthcare workers, city planners, lawyers, entertainers and politicians. They will hold countless other roles vital to any community. “Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

There are many myths regarding why RE-1 needs this money. The fact is the state legislators have cut K-12 funding in order to balance the state budget. Amendment 23 voted on by the people required statewide per pupil funding to increase annually by at least inflation plus 1 percent through 2010-11 and by at least inflation annually thereafter. However the nationwide recession that hit in 2008 resulted in the state not being able to pay its share and still meet other budgetary demands. This caused the General Assembly to create the”Negative Factor” to reduce the state’s share of total program equitably across school districts. As a result RE-1’s funding has been cut every year since 2009-10 for a total of $15,002,568.

Fact No. 2 — This budget deficit began before the current superintendent arrived and will continue with any other superintendent unless something changes at the state level. The mill levy override is a way to help the district continue to provide education for our children without cutting teachers and/or non-mandated programs. Any individual’s or group’s feelings toward Dr. Delay are irrelevant. This is for the kids. “Teach them well.”

Fact No. 3 — There has been no misappropriation of funds. This implies that money has been spent for things other than allowed by law. The district is audited every year by Lauer, Szabo & Associates PC. There has been no evidence of wrong doing. Everyone has different thoughts on where the money will do the most good. Ultimately that is up to the school board to decide.

Fact No. 4 — Approximately 11 percent of RE-1’s overall budget was spent on administration before the cuts made for the 2017-18 school year. In comparison Fort Morgan also spent 11 percent of its budget on admin and Brush 16 percent.

Fact No. 5 — Money from marijuana sales goes into the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST)program. The funds can only be used to renovate existing school buildings or construct new buildings with health, safety and security issues such as asbestos removal, new roofs, and building code violations being priorities. BEST grants are competitive, awarded annually and in most cases must be supplemented with local district matching funds.These funds cannot be used for salaries, textbooks, classroom supplies, or curriculum.

Fact No. 6 — Citizens 4 Education is a registered nonprofit, small scale issue committee with a Tax ID and bank account. All funds have been donated by committee members, local businesses, members of the community, and a grant available to small scale issue committees.

Fact No. 7 — The four-day school week is not a scare tactic. It is a legitimate cost saving measure necessitated by the lack of funding by the state. The district’s reserves were depleted to the point they could no longer sustain the district’s budget.

Fact No. 8 — The mill levy increase will restore mills that previous generations paid for the education of the parents of this current generation. The increase will be 10 mills. To calculate the impact on your tax bill, take the total assessed value from your most recent tax bill or valuation notice and multiply by 0.01. For example, a home worth $110,000 will have an assessed value of $8,756. Multiply by 0.01 and the increase will be $87.56 per year or $7.30 per month.

Fact No. 9 — There will be accountability for the mill levy funds. It’s required by law and will be monitored by Citizens 4 Education. It will also be audited by Lauer, Szabo & Associates PC.

Without the passage of Ballot Issue 3M, how can there be increases to teacher salaries? How can we retain or attract quality staff? How will we support the many extracurricular activities that are so valuable to a child’s overall education and growth? How, I ask, can we “Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

Dena Vogel is a member of Citizens 4 Education, a grassroots advocacy organization supporting Ballot Issue 3M, a mill levy override for RE-1 Valley School District.