Rangely schools seek funding via two mill levies

RANGELY | In the coming weeks election ballots will begin hitting Rangely mailboxes with a variety of decisions to be made directing the future of Rangely schools. Along with two school board seats opening up the district is also seeking two mill levies to expand school funding through property tax increases.
Issue 3A is a mill levy override offered directly by the school district. The measure seeks to increase the levy to 2.67, the maximum mill levy that can be set, as determined by the state. The levy would equate to an annual property tax bill increase of $42.52 for a residential property valued at $200,000 and $154.86 for a business property valued the same.
Measure 5A is a continuation of the mill levy currently sponsored by the Western Rio Blanco Recreation District which helps fund athletic and competitive activities at the schools. The mill levy, which was initially passed in 2012, sunsets this year. The increased tax bill for 5A will ring in at $14.93 for a home valued at $200,000 and $43.50 for similarly valued business properties.
The district claims the funding increase is vital for the schools following years of broken funding promises from the state. In 2010 the state began using what is commonly termed as the “Negative Factor” to calculate school funding. According to Rangely Schools Superintendent Matt Scoggins the state chose to redistribute funds intended for the schools to other governmental agencies. Scoggins says that the district has been shorted more than $3.7 million in the last seven years.
Additionally, the district says they have been hit by a drop in student enrollment. In the last few years Scoggins estimates that the district has lost 67 students. Because Colorado funds education on a per pupil basis the decreased enrollment equates to decreased funding.
Should 3A pass the district says the funds will be used to retain quality staff and attract new hires, maintain current staffing and operations, provide textbooks and technology and maintain class sizes. The funds from 5A will provide for coaching stipends, supplies, bus drivers and some of the travel costs associated with athletics.
According to the Colorado Department of Education’s website Rangely schools currently receive 60 percent of their funding from local sources, 38 percent from the state and 2 percent of funds from the federal government. The website lists total funding for the 2015-2016 school year at just over $8 million. Should 3A pass the district anticipates approximately an additional $1,250 per pupil.
However, the district says that even if both mill levies are approved they still may face some budget shortfalls. “If neither ballot issue passes we can cut the supply budget and that might save a few thousand dollars, but we are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars so we will likely see cuts in areas that would include staffing, maintenance of buildings, transportation, athletics, activities and special services. We have already made a number of budget cuts over the last four years and future cuts will certainly be challenging,” said Scoggins.
In the meantime, the district says they are already trying to make sensible cuts including eliminating administration positions at both the high school and district office.
Scoggins also wants voters to know that even if both mill levies pass Rangely residents can expect a decrease in their tax bill by 2019. The school bond, passed in 2008, expires in 2018 leaving a 36 percent net decrease in taxes collected by the school district beginning in 2019. Scoggins doesn’t see any changes in the way the state handles education funding in the near future, saying, “It will likely take a rewrite of the School Finance Act before there is any significant change.” This is why he believes local funding efforts such as the mill levies are so important. “This is a chance for the community to have some control over what funds go to the school district. The state is not going to do that,” he said.