MEEKER I State Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, led a public discussion and tutorial on public school finance Monday night at the Meeker Board of Education (BOE) board room.
The meeting was originally generated from a discussion between Meeker Mayor Regas Halandras and Rankin at a special dedication ceremony at the Rifle Airport several weeks ago. The Meeker BOE and School District hosted the event, and roughly 30 people attended from Meeker, Rangely, Craig and Glenwood Springs.
Rankin said, “Nothing is more important than our K-12 education, and we know we need to do more.” He added that the Legislature faces a state budget circumstance that is more complicated than just about any other state, and that his primary message is that “We are in a crisis” because of the lack of flexibility in the budget process.
Rankin is now a member of the Legislature’s financial planning and spending authorization team, the six-member Joint Budget Committee.
Rankin directly addressed the Moffat County, Rangely and Meeker school district superintendents in attendance—in response to the unified request from school superintendents statewide to restore the “negative factor”—saying that while there might be a possibility of some relief, there’s simply not enough money at the state level.
The “negative factor” is an accounting tool that allows the state to avoid total compliance with Amendment 23, passed by the voters in 2002 which requires annually increasing the base per-pupil funding by at least the cost of inflation.
Rankin reminded the group that K-12 education already uses 37 percent of the state’s total general fund, but he agreed with the crowd that the system of fund distribution under the state School Finance Act is “very inequitable.”
As a member of the Joint Budget Committee, Rankin is obviously in a position to greatly influence the state’s fund allocations. In the face of this Northwest Colorado group of school people stressing the need for more financial support, however, Rankin asked, “OK, what would you have me not fund in order to better fund education?”
His approach to the group was very professorial and one of looking for solutions. He distributed a 16- page handout providing an overview of school finance and what schools in Colorado are up against. The document included “next steps.”
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, called the TABOR Amendment, was cited as one of the critical pieces that limits legislative financial flexibility. The law will require the refund of $220 million to taxpayers this year, and Rankin asked that the group just think about what even a portion of that could do for schools.
While admitting that with the TABOR name (taxpayer rights), Rankin said it would be very difficult to make any necessary changes in it, especially given the law is in the Constitution. Rankin said he likes the idea of TABOR—limiting the size and growth of government—but that’s not what TABOR is actually doing.
When asked what priority ideas group members had, Rangely Superintendent Matt Scoggins urged Rankin to be proactive on changing TABOR and on revising the School Finance Act (SFA). There was concern among the group, however, that if the SFA were opened up, we might end up with changes that weren’t good for rural schools, in particular.
Mary Strang, president of the Meeker Education Foundation, spoke up to say she agreed with any effort to amend or get rid of TABOR as it was and is “a move against representative government.” A couple folks suggested, in the light of so many complicating limitations in the state Constitution, that it might be time for a state Constitutional convention to completely review and revamp our state Constitution, taking out tax policies that should never have been put into the Constitution.
In terms of “next steps,” in addition to trying to find some relief from the negative factor and trying to amend TABOR, which Rankin felt was politically impossible, he suggested local districts focus more on pursuing mil levy overrides, local fund raising and grants, including those from the state’s energy funds (severance tax dollars and energy impact funds).
Rankin also said he “needs to convince folks that we must increase the gasoline tax, which hasn’t been changed since 1992.”
Rankin also pointed to the 30-percent increased commitment the state has made to Medicare/Medicaid coverage as something that shouldn’t have happened because it was an unfunded mandate.
In other non-related school district news, three candidates were interviewed this past week for the high school counselor position left vacant with Amy Chinn becoming principal. High school vo-ag, speech teacher and FFA sponsor Trina Smith has been chosen under transfer of duties provisions, to be the new high school counselor, thus leaving a vacancy now for her position.