As the Nov. 7 election draws near, voters in Montezuma County are discussing a school district mill levy resolution.
If approved by voters in the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District, the tax would raise about $2.7 million in 2018.
Ballot question 3B asks whether the school board should be authorized to raise and spend additional property tax revenues “increased by $2,678,727 in 2017 for collection in 2018, and by whatever amounts are generated annually thereafter by an additional mill levy of 4.96 mills.” It states that the revenue would “be deposited in the general fund of the district and used for educational purposes as approved by the board of education” including new buses, technology and increased salaries.
The open-ended aspect of the tax question, and wording that does not limit spending to buses, salaries and technology have worried some voters.
At October’s Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District meeting, a parent spoke to the board about his concerns.
“About five years ago, this board decided to come to the voter and asked for a 44 million dollar bag of tricks,” Dyrl Graf, of District E, said. “There were waning test scores, there were waning attendance scores, and we were told that a new high school would solve all of those problems. Judging by the report that Mr. Wayman just gave, the new high school is apparently not doing a whole lot for attendance.”
Graf’s comments came after Principal Jason Wayman reported that attendance at Montezuma-Cortez High School was 91.25 percent, which is below the goal of 95 percent but above the previous year’s rate of 87.6 percent. Waymon was speaking during a preliminary discussion about attendance policy.
Graf was also concerned about how the funds gained from the tax raise would be used. “It gives you guys a real broad spectrum of how you are going to spend it (but) does not in the ballot language question require you to spend it on the three things that you have outlined in here,” Graf said. “I just want to bring that to your attention.”
In an email exchange with The Journal, Re-1 Superintendent, Lori Haukeness reiterated that the funds would be spent to address staffing issues, an aging bus fleet and technology upgrades.
Haukeness said 78 percent of the revenue generated by the mill levy would be used for salary increases.
“The district has developed revised salary schedules for all staff. Those documents, which are open to the public, have been designed to bring RE-1’s salaries in line with those of surrounding districts,” Haukeness said in the email. “A comparison of RE-1 salaries with surrounding districts also is available.”
Haukeness also stated that the district plans to use about $160,000 each year to replace buses before they are 15 years old or have operated for 300,000 miles.
“The costs of that schedule will be incorporated into the district’s budget after the mill levy override is approved,” she said.
Finally, Haukeness stated in the email that the district has developed a long-term plan “to upgrade technology infrastructure in the older school buildings, to provide technology for instructional purposes, and to provide computer equipment to be used by students beginning in third grade.”
At the Oct. 17 school board meeting, Graf stated that he thought the board, “needed to go back to civics class.”
“In this thing, it states that students have a right to 21st century technology,” Graf said. “Students have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, but they do not have a right to technology. Technology may be helpful, technology may help them learn in some aspects, but they do not have the right to it.”
Haukeness added that, “RE-1’s budget is a public document, board meetings are open to members of the public, and board members always are willing address concerns about district expenditures, as am I.”
Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 District School Board directors’ information is available here.
Graf stated that he is not against the mill levy, but he is concerned about what he sees as lack of action from previous funds.
“This all being said, I am not opposed to the current mill levy override that you guys are asking for,” Graf said. “I am opposed to it, however, in light of the previous ‘boondoggle’ that is still ongoing with the old high school still standing.”
Graf told The Journal that he and Haukeness spoke after the school board meeting.