W. Grand schools seek tax override | SkyHiNews.com

W. Grand schools seek tax override

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi News
Kremmling, CO Colorado

West Grand School District is gunning again for a $420,000 tax override on the November ballot.

School Board President Larry Banman said the 425-student school district plans to use the money to maintain small class sizes (the average student-teacher ratio districtwide is 13-1), improve its vocational and dual-credit course offerings at the high school and keep pace with technological advancements.

Voters defeated a similar measure on the ballot last year, 498 to 272. Banman said he believes the school board failed to educate the public about the need for the override.

“When we were doing our budgeting this spring and talking about what cuts we needed to make, we had people saying they didn’t understand the issue when the override was on the ballot last time,” Banman said.

This year, the board has created a Political Action Committee to help campaign for the ballot measure. Members of the committee include Banman, Mike Ritschard (husband of board member Susan Ritschard) and biology teacher Laurie Haack. Former board member Teri Tanton is president of the committee. The group even has a Facebook page (West Grand Override) and will be hosting a public meeting to share information about the override at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, in the West Grand High School auditorium.

Expiring overrides

Of concern to the school board and administrators are two existing overrides expiring in June, totaling a $124,000 loss to the district on top of what the state has already rescinded due to its budget crisis and the possible loss of funds due to Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.

“We are already receiving $79,000 less from the state because of (declining) enrollment this year,” said Superintendent Kevin Chalfant.

The board responded to this year’s budget shortfall by cutting staff (6 staff positions were cut for a total savings of $202,354) and programs such as Friday school and the parent mileage program (for an additional $204,083 in savings).

With the cuts the board has already made, Chalfant figures that the district will have reduced its expenditures a total of $553,475 by the start of the next budget cycle, and that’s not including any additional funding cuts handed down by the state as it tries to balance its budget for next year.

West Grand’s actual 2010 budget document doesn’t exactly reflect that loss, instead showing a $53,000 increase in expenditures.

“The reason we have $53,000 more in the budget this year is that we started saving last year in anticipation of budget cuts. A lot of that is one-time revenue, stimulus money, rebates that we carried over from last year’s budget anticipating a more difficult time,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant figures that the district has lost 115 students from its peak of 541 in 1998 until now. Since this time last year alone, the district has lost 25 students -nine more than anticipated.

While the state assumes that fewer students require less funding, “the reverse side of that,” Chalfant said, “is that it’s more expensive to run a school this year and in next 10 years than it was 10 years ago. We are trying to position ourselves for the next 10 years, not just maintain what we had 10 years ago.”

How the money would be used

If Measure 3A is successful, the money will be used for general fund purposes, which could include paying teacher salaries, supporting student activities and maintaining the facility.

“We would be able to restore many of the cuts initiated over the last two years,” Chalfant said.

If the measure fails, the district plans to eliminate more than $400,000 from its budget next year, possibly by cutting elementary and high school teaching positions, reducing high school class offerings, cutting the gifted and talented program, cutting English language learner classes, cutting special education programs and eliminating sports. The board may also consider raising activity fees, charging student fees (like East Grand is now doing) and raising ticket prices for athletic events.

Based on the most recent tax assessment, the override would cost an additional $23.43 per year for a residence that has an assessed value of $200,000; $426.30 per year for agricultural land that has an assessed value of $1 million and $213.15 per year for commercial property that has an assessed value of $500,000.

For a rural school built around a small town and ranches, West Grand is offering one of the “best educations in the state,” Chalfant said.

“We’re proud of our small student ratio – our students do not get lost between the cracks,” he said. “We can continue to have an excellent program for $24 per year. That’s the best bargain for your money. It’s the best long term investment for our young people.”

If approved, the new tax would never expire. The $420,000 override would join an existing $550,000 override that also doesn’t expire, bringing the district close to the maximum amount it is allowed to collect from additional property taxes, according to state law.

The total levy for the West Grand School District in 2009 was 22.783 mills, costing the average taxpayer with a $200,000 home about $360 per year to support the schools. If approved, the override would bring that amount up to about $384 in 2011 and $374 in 2012 when the additional overrides expire.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or rarmstrong@skyhidailynews.com.

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