School board currently surveying voter mood, may ask for a mill levy override in November election
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Summit school board is polling voters to measure support for a possible November ballot question that would tweak mill levies to increase funding for schools.
“We’re doing a survey to get the pulse of the county,” said school board president Jon Kreamelmeyer, explaining that the ballot measure is technically called a mill levy override, which is a local financing measure authorized under the 2009 School Finance Act passed by the State Legislature.
“Chances are more positive than negative that we’re going to move in that direction. We’re in such dire straights,” he said, referring to the state budget crunch that has strangled education funding. Kreamelmeyer said the district needs to get a ballot question written in the next couple of months in order to get it on the November ballot.
Kreamelmeyer said that, even with teacher salaries frozen and $877,000 cut from the budget recently, the district is still facing a serious crunch. This year’s school finance act cut slashed state support for schools by about 6 percent, or $260 million. When compared to what funding would have been under the full terms of Amendment 23, the reduction is more than 8 percent.
A boost may come from private sources, as the recently formed Summit Educational Foundation gears up for a major fund-raising effort. The newly formed nonprofit aims to raise $1.2 million. Any help is welcome, as the outlook for the state budget is not hopeful, according to State Rep. Christine Scanlan, the former school board president who co-sponsored the school finance
“The projections are for cuts or no increases for three more years,” Scanlan said. The School Finance Act enables local districts to go to voters looking for more funding. Under override mechanism, the revenue can be applied to items in the general fund, she explained. The state measure enables school districts to seek more funding directly from voters, but it’s up the districts to make it work locally, she said.
“We have a lot more flexibility with this,” said district spokesperson Julie McCluskie, adding that any revenue from the potential mill levy hasn’t been committed to any specific purpose yet. For now, the school district is trying to gather input with a telephone and mail-in survey to gauge what the community would support.
Theoretically, the revenue garnered under the override mechanism could even go toward teacher salaries, in contrast to recent mil levies that were focused specifically for facility improvements and technology. McCluskie said there will probably be an initial presentation at the June 8 school board meeting.
The Breckenridge Town Council discussed the potential for a school mil levy at a retreat this week, unanimously expressing support in a straw poll and expressing concern that any town request for increased taxes could conflict with a school funding ballot question.
At the same meeting, Breckenridge Ski Area chief operating officer Pat Campbell also expressed general support for school funding, emphasizing how important the local schools are to Vail Resorts in terms of attracting and retaining employees.