School district may receive additional state money

Senate passes School Finance Act, approves three-year funding plan

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Moffat County School District may receive an additional $273,000 in state funding next year following a narrow Colorado Senate decision Tuesday.

"I feel like we've basically fought an uphill battle, and hopefully all the effort is going to pay off with some additional revenue," Superintendent Pete Bergmann said.

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The Senate approved the School Finance Act, 18-16. The House education committee amended the bill to include Gov. Bill Ritter's proposal to freeze property taxes before advancing it onto the entire House, which passed the measure Friday, and then the Senate.

The measure now proceeds to Ritter for his signature.

Ritter's plan would allow Colorado districts to keep an estimated $55 million for preschool and kindergarten programs and to bring the lowest-funded districts to minimum floor funding by locking property-tax rates.

As the lowest funded per-pupil district in the state, Moffat County School District administrators have been working with legislators for more than a year on a plan that would decrease the disparity between the state average per-pupil funding and the lowest funded districts.

Ritter's plan would provide the necessary funding for Moffat County's proposal.

If approved, the measure would grant Moffat County $273,645 for the 2007-08 school year and about $375,000 for the 2008-09 school year.

By the third year, Moffat County -- as well as the other lowest funded districts statewide -- would receive a minimum of 95 percent of the state average funding.

"The only possible contingent would be a legal challenge to the constitutionality," Bergmann said.

Attorney General John Suthers challenged the legality of the tax freeze Friday. He contends voters must decide issues that raise the property tax burden.

However, Ritter's and the legislature's lawyers stand behind the freeze's legality.

If the act survives the legal challenges, Bergmann said the school district still faces financial difficulties.

He embraces a three-pronged attack to solve the district's financial crisis: get the school finance law more equitable, reduce expenditures and ask the community for more local tax support in the November election.

Bergmann said receiving additional state funding does not deter the Board of Education from making 2 percent in cuts and reductions in the works for the 2007-08 budget.

The board is planning about $1.1 million in cuts for the 2007-08 budget and more than $600,000 in cuts for the following year.

"Basically nothing changes for next year," he said. "What this does is it takes the pressure off the second-year cuts we've identified.

"It doesn't solve our problem. It reduces the urgency."

The board is still considering asking voters to approve a mill levy override in November.

"So we can sustain the programs we have without making further cuts," Bergmann said.

But the increased school funding can help the district get back on its feet.

He praised State Rep. Al White for his support and efforts in the passage of the School Finance Act.

"Without him carrying this forward for our school districts, this wouldn't have happened," Bergmann said. "He took a stand on doing what's right, and we appreciate that."

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