RSD asks for “BEST” decision

RANGELY I The Rangely School District and Board of Education is asking the community to use their voices and make their “BEST” decision for the needs of the schools and students. Issue 4A on the November ballot asks voters to empower the Rangely RE-4 district to make a “financially prudent choice” to address critical facility improvements that will extend the lifespan of the district’s buildings.  

This year the District applied for the competitive BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) Grant which is funded by marijuana sales tax and requires matching funds through bonds from the District. The goal of the BEST grant is to construct new schools or renovate existing facilities in order to prioritize health, safety, and security issues in school buildings. RE-4 won the BEST grant funding in the amount of $2.6 million for necessary improvements in HVAC, electrical and roofing in all of the district buildings but especially in the Junior/Senior High School, Parkview Elementary and the AG Shop. The specific top priorities for the District are student safety, HVAC, mechanical/electrical systems, drainage and roofing. Where there is a sentiment that the older schools were better built; time has taken its toll on them. The current buildings are now older than the previous buildings were when they were torn down in the 1980s. The district’s buildings suffer from issues regarding sanitation lines, leaking roofs, sinking foundations, poor air filtration, and uneven heating/cooling. Rangely’s schools serve as learning centers for children and they serve the community with adult athletic leagues. The rec center offers open gym programs in the school gyms up to a couple of times a week in the winter season. The schools do not charge the recreation department for this use as the community should share its resources free for the benefit of its citizens, which Superintendent Matt Scoggins says is “as it should be.” Rangely School Board President Sam Tolley agrees, stating, “Our schools serve as the center of the community, and the community at large gets to take advantage of this.” 

In addition to the BEST Grant, funding for buildings and major improvements for schools is generated through the issuance of bonds, like a loan. A property tax levy pays back the bonds over time. This is the specific issue registered voters will be voting on. In districts where funding isn’t utilized, it is because the voters opt not to support grant funding. Of the 178 school districts in Colorado, 128 currently have bonds, including neighboring districts. 

The combination of property taxes, bonds and the BEST grant will allow Rangely to address the Tier 1 recommendations in the master plan prepared by Wildan Performance Engineering and will extend the life of the existing buildings for 40 years. The master plan identified more than $43 million in potential needs. The bond amount will be in the amount of $26 million, will be repaid over a 20-year period, and covers approximately 9% of the most necessary costs. (The complete master plan and project updates can be viewed on the district’s website.) In contrast, it would cost approximately $110 million to build all new schools. 

Superintendent Matt Scoggins said, “These numbers might look intimidating, but we need to ask ourselves what is most responsible.” 

“This is the compromise between the needs of the district and what the community can afford. It is tough times here in Rangely, this is a tough decision. We will pay some now or pay more later,” said School Board President Sam Tolley.

“These numbers might look intimidating, but we need to ask ourselves what is most responsible.”

Matt Scoggins, Rangely School District Superintendent

On June 15, 2021, the school board unanimously voted to participate in the November election regarding the bond necessary to supplement the BEST Grant, giving voters in the community the agency to decide how the district can and should move forward. The July school board meeting was turned into a work session in which the board toured the district’s buildings with engineers to get a visual of what needs to be fixed. During the June, August and September school board meetings, all directors discussed the need for property tax levies with visuals and financial breakdowns created by Scoggins in as simple as possible formats. Due diligence toward transparency was applied.  

“No one likes higher taxes,” stated several school board directors, but they agreed the priority should be that students and faculty deserve safe buildings to learn and work in. Tolley noted as a small business owner that he didn’t enjoy paying more in taxes than the next person but said, “the timing is right.” At this time, borrowing costs for bonds remain at historic lows. Calculations show that the investment per $100,000 of a home’s actual value is $6/month in a property tax increase. The median home value in Rangely is approximately $188,392. The investment for a business of $100,000 value equals $24/month and for a business of $500,000 value, the investment is approximately $121/month. 

In Colorado, the State funds the operating budgets for schools. This covers teacher and administrative salaries, supplies for classrooms, and typical bills associated with operating a building. In 2012, when Coloradans voted to approve marijuana sales, Colorado schools ranked 35th in school funding and voters were told marijuana sales tax revenue would fix most of the issues. Opinions on whether this has come to pass vary by district and depend on the efforts of local citizens and the officials who operate the local schools in the districts. While it does generate a substantial income and allows opportunities, especially for rural districts, the responsibility is left to local districts to advocate and compete to stay current. Marijuana tax dollars are dpersed into separate funds to support education. Of the excise tax revenue collected, 90% or $40 million, whichever is greater, is credited to the Capital Construction Assistance Fund and funds the BEST grant with excess funds going to the Public School Fund. The Public School Fund offers funding available to CDE for various appropriations throughout subsequent fiscal years. Ten percent of the state’s 15% retail tax is allocated to local governments and distributed according to the percentage of marijuana sales within the city and/or county boundaries. Rio Blanco County does not have any marijuana retailers within its limits and thus does not receive this funding. Other programs funded by marijuana tax revenue are distributed to the Colorado Department of Education including Early Literacy Competitive Grants, School Health Professional Grants, School Bullying Prevention and Education Grants, and Drop-Out Prevention Programs.

Several business owners offered their thoughts regarding the ballot measure. As businesses also pay property taxes, at a higher rate than private owners, they will carry the majority of the responsibility. 

Rodger Polley, the owner of Rangely True Value, shares that he is not against the increase in taxes or the needs of the students, but feels cautious due to lack of transparency with government agencies and distrust with architects. He shares that with full disclosure vs. best picture, he is likely to support the school board on this issue. He hopes that the materials will be of long-lasting quality rather than aesthetics.

John and Sandy Payne of Giovanni’s Italian Grill offered, “As business owners and community members, we will be voting ‘Yes’ in support of the Rangely School District Ballot Issue 4-A in the upcoming election on Nov. 2, 2021. We feel that the school’s priorities listed in the letter sent by Rio Blanco County are essential to providing a safe school environment. While no one likes to increase their taxes, we believe this is a wise choice instead of building new buildings down the road.” 

Brad Casto, the owner of Napa Auto and candidate for the school board, stated that he is firmly against this issue due to previous tax increases in the last two years. He feels strongly that managing the behavior of the students is a higher priority. 

Cary Baird from Chevron offered a neutral statement, “A good portion of Chevron’s local taxes help support the Rangely schools. We want our employees and neighbors to have great schools because they are vital to the long-term vitality of a community and region. As a corporate community partner, though, we think voters should decide whether to raise more local taxes for schools.”

Superintendent Matt Scoggins states, “This empowers the community to come together and exercise their right to use their voice for what they believe is best for our children.” The November election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

By Katie King | Special to the Herald Times

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  1. Tolley oversees last meeting as RSD president, board discusses possible bond | Rio Blanco Herald Times | Serving Meeker, Rangely, Dinosaur & Northwest Colorado
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