Selle answers questions regarding ‘marijuana money’, BEST grant rejection, diverted funds

Chris Selle

By CHRIS SELLE

MSD Superintendent

MEEKER |  Meeker School District recently mailed a public opinion survey to registered voter households district-wide. The district is seeking the community’s input on its most pressing facility needs and proposed solutions. To date, we have received about 250 responses to that survey. In the coming weeks, we will tally the results and share those with the community.

In addition to a mail survey, the district has been presenting to business and civic groups and hosting community information meetings. There have been three important questions that have come up in both the mail survey and outreach meetings, and I thought it would be helpful to address those in greater detail here.

Question 1: What about the marijuana money? Is that available to help fund school building improvements? Amendment 64 passed in 2012 with a hollow promise of providing funding to schools. To be blunt, the supporters of Amendment 64 did a fantastic job of leveraging public schools as a method to pass their initiative. Marijuana taxes have provided very little financial support for schools. In the 2017-18 school year, our district received an amount equal to less than 3.5 percent of our total budget through funds from marijuana tax revenue. These are the only funds from marijuana taxes ever received by our district. Most of the marijuana revenue for schools is a percentage of the excise tax on wholesale marijuana which goes into the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program. While the promise of “pot for pencils” was an effective election strategy, marijuana taxes were never intended, nor will ever provide, enough monies to fix the education funding shortfall in our state.

Question 2: Why was our School District not awarded a BEST grant? It is important for our community to understand that the absence of approved recreational marijuana usage in our community has no impact on BEST grant application evaluations. The primary reason we did not receive a grant is simply mathematics. There were 45 school districts applying for BEST grants. These requests totaled about $900 million. Unfortunately, only $447 million was available from the BEST program. The BEST board indicated all projects they reviewed were valid, but not enough money was available to fund all the requests. A few additional factors hurt our application. Overall, the first-time applications for large projects like ours were not particularly successful. School districts applying for large projects that have already passed bonds for matching funds, and that have applied for their BEST grant multiple times, have traditionally been much more successful. Furthermore, some members of the BEST board felt that the scope of our proposal was too large. Facilities such as the gyms and auditorium, which increase the square-foot-per-student ratio, are of great benefit to our community. However, they are not viewed by BEST as essential to educational programming. Should the school district decide to re-apply for a BEST grant, we will need to determine if projects like a new gym and auditorium remain in the grant application.

Question 3: Can other special districts divert funds to the school district? None of these districts can divert tax dollars generated through their mill levies directly to the school district. How these entities govern their tax revenues is beyond the control of the school district. Nonetheless, it is important for our community to note that many of these districts are incredibly supportive of the school district. We have received thousands of dollars in donations to help run our organization from ERBM, Rio Blanco County, Pioneers Medical Center, the Town of Meeker, the Cemetery District, Meeker Fire and Rescue, WREA and other special districts. Their support of our school district has been phenomenal.   

We are extremely grateful to those who have taken time to complete our mail survey and/or attended one of the district’s outreach meetings. If you have not returned the survey, we ask you do so by June 29, 2018. Your input is critical. Our schools are strong because of your incredible support, which gives me reason to keep proclaiming that I am proud to be a Meeker Cowboy!