Bayfield schools seek funds to cope with cuts

Favorable bond rates would help repair and add buildings

In two weeks, residents of Bayfield will vote on two ballot issues that would increase funding for Bayfield School District, which has struggled to cope with harrowing budget cuts totaling nearly $1.4 million a year, or nearly 14 percent of its budget, in response to drastic reductions in state funding.

The first ballot measure, 3A, would increase the mill levy to cover operating expenses, including textbooks, science lab equipment and modern technology.

If passed, the first year of the increased mill levy would bring in $1.2 million for the district. It would enable the district to pay competitive salaries and to hire teaching aides, restoring previous levels of staff support. The levy will cost homes worth $300,000 up to $95.52 annually, or 27 cents a day, and houses worth $200,000 up to $63.68 annually, or 18 cents per day.

The last time there was a mill levy vote was in 2002.

Superintendent of Bayfield School District Troy Zabe said that, “with budget cuts, we’ve tried to shield the classroom, but you can only go so far.”

He said Bayfield teachers’ salaries were about 70 percent of those of teachers in comparably sized districts like Gunnison. “We’ve had a salary freeze for three full years, going on four, which just makes it hard to retain staff. To recruit people, or bring people in, salaries need to go up. The most important thing you can have in a school system is the best people to stand in front of kids every day.”

Zabe said the mill levy, if passed, would finance raises for district staff across the board, not just teachers.

Anne Cook, director of Citizens for Bayfield Schools, said, “We lost five teachers this year – some for various reasons – but certainly over pay, when they’re only going as far as Durango or Ignacio.”

Zabe said one teacher who decamped to Durango was being paid $7,000 more for a similar job.

Some 1,300 students are enrolled in the district. It employs 101 licensed staff members.

Zabe said if the mill levy did not pass, the district would be forced to increase class sizes and reduce the number of teachers.

The second ballot measure, 3B, is designed to improve existing facilities and finance new ones by issuing bonds that would extend the current debt levy without increasing the current tax rate for debt repayment from $8.9 million to $11.9 million.

It would also allow the district to repair leaking roofs, renovate old classrooms and construct new ones, build an auditorium, an auxiliary gymnasium and a baseball field for the high school, and purchase a $715,000 40-acre parcel of land downtown for future growth.

Cook said it was prudent for the district to take advantage of the bond market while interests are low, pointing out that the district, which now runs six full-time kindergarten classes, is growing and needs the space.

“Right now, oil and gas pay 49 percent of our taxes” for schools, Cook said. “That’s great while those industries are booming and alive, but this is an opportunity for us to share in the tax burden for education. We badly need to repair some of our leaking roofs, a space for students – band, the performing arts – to use, which is slated for community use as well. And students are currently practicing until 8:30 at night because we don’t have enough sports facilities.”

If 3B passes, Cook said the district could afford to build an auxiliary gym for student athletes, “who should be home at 8:30, doing their homework or getting ready for bed.”

Zabe said he was nervous but confident. “It’s a conservative community, as is typical of most Western Slope communities, so its typically harder to pass tax raises. But it’s a great community, doing some very innovative things, and our staff is phenomenal. We’re all working to have the best system around for our kids,” he said.

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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