School finance bill could mean more money for Moffat County

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In other action

The Moffat County School District Board of Education unanimously approved the following action items on second reading:

• Policy 6711, Grading Assessment Systems

• Policy 5510, Student Dress Code

• Policy 5412, Student Code of Conduct

• Policy 5450, Secret Societies/Gang Activity

• Policy 5440, Alcohol or Drug Use by Students

• Policy 5460, Weapons in School

• Policy 5422, Educational Alternatives for Expelled Students

• Policy 5421, Expulsion Prevention

• Policy 4102, Staff Conduct

• Policy 1520, Relations with Charter Schools

• Policy 5563, Physical Activity

• First Reading Policy 4411.1 Salary Schedule-Classified

• Colorado Legacy Foundation Grant

— Moffat County School District officials are cautiously optimistic that a proposed school finance bill being floated by a state senator could mean good things for the local school system.

Board of Education members discussed Sen. Mike Johnston’s draft legislation during their Thursday night meeting, and Christine Balderston offered her support and optimism for the bill. Johnston, D-Denver, released the 144-page draft of his bill last week. The bill purports major changes to how schools in the state are funded.

Balderston traveled with the Colorado Association of School Boards to the Capitol last week, and she and others from across the state learned what Johnston’s bill would mean for their school districts. For Moffat County, it could mean more money, including state funding for all-day kindergarten.

Johnston told the Steamboat Today earlier this month that his bill aims to fix the existing funding formula that allows some school districts in the state with very high property values and median incomes but low mills to receive a significantly higher amount of state funding than other communities that are taxing themselves at a higher rate but receiving far less from the state.

“Rural districts do get a little bit more of a boost,” Balderston said about the proposed legislation. “There are some losers in this, Steamboat being one, Aspen another. We are winning in this. It’s a boost.”

The latest version of the bill, which is yet to be introduced, also calls for the state to fund all-day kindergarten. The state currently funds only half-day kindergarten programs, leaving districts like Moffat County that offer all-day programs to cover the remaining cost.

The bill looks to revamp how districts report student enrollment numbers for funding purposes. Instead of having students counted only on the official pupil count date of Oct. 1, Johnston proposes averaging the count data from four days throughout the school year. That would allow districts to receive funding for students who enroll after the count date in the fall.

Balderston said she saw other possible benefits coming from the bill in the form of innovation funds and support with mill levy overrides.

After considering asking Moffat County voters to support a mill levy override this year, school district officials are now thinking about waiting. Balderston said the district stands to benefit more from a voter-approved mill levy override if it waits until the bill passes, when it could gain an additional $598 per student.

Balderston said she believed if the bill passes, the state would cover the cost of a mill levy override election, win or lose.

Superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone cautioned the board from getting too excited about the bill’s potential. It’s still in draft form, he reminded them, and is yet to have a bill number assigned to it.

“It’s all conjecture at this point,” Petrone said. “They’re still looking at how it will be amended or changed.”

But that hasn’t stopped other rural area school districts, such as Hayden and South Routt, from sharing optimism about the bill.

In Hayden, the bill could mean additional state funding before the expiration of an existing mill levy override that nets the school district about $324,000 annually.

“We're pleased with anything that would provide more money for education,” Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said earlier this month. “It sounds like (this bill) would offer a nice increase in funding for our district.”

Even Steamboat, which stands to lose funding if the bill passes, has identified some benefits. Currently, Steamboat families must pay for a child to attend all-day kindergarten.

Community members can read the bill and offer feedback to Johnston at www.mikejohnston.org.

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