Leaders of the Montezuma-Cortez School District met with stakeholders on Thursday to plan for a second try at passing a mill levy increase.
Ballot Measure 3B, which would have funded staff salary increases and bus and technology improvements for the district by raising property taxes, failed in the November election.
On Thursday, district leaders asked more than 20 district staff, parents, city officials and interested citizens gathered at First National Bank for their input on what went wrong last time and how to do better the next time.
District Superintendent Lori Haukeness and school board member Jack Schuenemeyer didn’t say when they planned to pursue another mill levy, but they did say they wanted to start forming a campaign strategy soon. They asked the audience for suggestions on how to improve the bond issue and the way it’s presented to the public.
“We really need to work closer with the community,” Haukeness told stakeholders. “Our goal is to listen to you.”
As participants spoke, Human Resources Director Dan Porter wrote their suggestions on large pieces of paper attached to the windows. After about an hour of discussion, everyone in the meeting was invited to place stickers next to the three issues they felt were most important for the district to address.
A common theme in the input session was that the bond issue’s wording needed to be clearer. Several people said that much of Measure 3B’s trouble came from its open-ended language, which did not appear to guarantee that the tax revenue would be spent only on its stated purpose, and the measure did not set an end date for the tax.
Nicci Crowley, parent-teacher association president for Mesa Elementary School, said the measure’s language stoked doubt about the district’s leadership.
“I think there is still a lot of distrust from the previous administration,” she said. “Everything I saw was, ‘How are you going to guarantee that this money will be spent where it needs to go?’”
Some said the district could do better at marketing the tax increase.
Mary Dodd of the Montelores Early Childhood Council said the stories that advocates shared about the hardships currently faced by bus drivers and other staff was more persuasive than the statistics that the district put out.
Several other people said they believed the district released its plans for the tax revenue too close to the election. Haukeness publicly released a spending plan for the bus and technology portion, which would have included about 25 percent of the estimated $2.7 million the mill levy would have raised, on Nov. 3, just four days before the Nov. 7 election.
Former school board member Pete Montaño said the campaign’s emphasis on technology overshadowed the fact that 75 percent of the funds were intended for staff salaries.
Another frequent suggestion, which Haukeness supported, was that the district’s messaging should focus more on the district’s achievements in the past few years, such as the new Montezuma-Cortez High School and several high-achieving students such as this year’s four Daniels Scholarship winners.
Dodd and others said voters might be inclined to support a mill levy if they had confidence the district has made progress with what it has.
Haukeness and Schuenemeyer said the district will put together a steering committee in the near future to advise the school board on the mill levy, taking the public’s suggestions into account.
“We’re going to do this,” Schuenemeyer said to close the meeting.