School officials: Changes to 23 wouldn't hurt school district

A highly criticized voter-approved amendment to fund K-12 school districts has had little impact -- either good or bad -- on local schools, educators say.

Amendment 23 passed by popular vote in 2000 to increase school funding by inflation plus one percent. The mandated state increases were enacted to give the State Education Fund a needed jump-start as state-allocated school funds dipped in the 1990s.

But the tax-spending limits of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, otherwise known as TABOR, paired with the spending increases of Amendment 23 are putting some colleges and universities in a bind.

Educators at University of Colorado, for example, said the bill will cause an 88 percent decrease in funding by the year 2009.

But that gloomy picture doesn't necessarily carry over to Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC), said Les Marstella, the college's vice president of administrative services.

"The biggest problem isn't Amendment 23," he said. "It's the economy. It's the state's reduction in revenue that affects us. It means we get less of the money from the bigger pool."

CNCC and the 12 other community colleges in the Colorado system are funded with state dollars. But that money first passes through two boards -- the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Colorado Community College System -- before reaching CNCC.

Allocations are based partly on student enrollment, Marstella said.

For the 2002-03 year, CNCC received state funds of $4.9 million. In 2003-2004, it received $4.5 million.

"Amendment 23 reduces the available places where budgets can be hit," he said. "How that will affect CNCC in the future will be hard to tell."

A bigger concern for CNCC, Marstella said, is currently being debated in the legislature: a possible reduction in the college's fund allocation for the 2004-05 year.

Since 1999, the college has been in a five-year "hold harmless" period, where it is somewhat sheltered from state cuts, but that agreement sunsets this year, Marstella said.

CNCC was shielded from many cuts because state school boards agreed that more funds are needed to support smaller colleges due to the smaller ratio of tuition to other costs of infrastructure, faculty salaries and administrative costs.

But on the K-12 front, Moffat County Schools are benefiting from Amendment 23, though it's in a roundabout way.

The Moffat County School district receives state funding at its current level of $5,511 per pupil -- the lowest allocation or "floor" compared to dollars received by other Colorado school districts.

Per-pupil funding is determined in part by the cost of living in areas around Colorado.

Some of the highest rates around the state reflect funding of more than $7,000 per student, said Moffat County Superintendent Pete Bergmann.

In the last three years Amendment 23 has helped the district increase its per pupil funding by almost 14 percent.

In the 2000-01 school year the Moffat County Schools received funds of $4,857, for each student --$654 per student less than the district currently receives.

The role of the amendment has been to "guarantee the shield of education during economic downtime," Bergmann said.

But district officials are more concerned raising the status of Moffat County Schools from its floor level funding. Those kind of decisions may be approached by lawmakers in the next couple years, but it's an unlikely topic in an election year, Bergmann wagered.

"Amendment 23 doesn't really affect us like it does to everybody else," he said. "What really affects us is what the legislature does to the floor."


Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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