Colorado House bills would help rural schools including Hayden, South Routt

Teresa Ristow

— Two bills recently introduced in the Colorado House would offer a wide range of help and more funding to small, rural districts, including Hayden and South Routt.

House Bill 1321 — introduced by Rep. Jim Wilson (R-Salida) and Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) on Monday and passed by the House Education Committee on Wednesday — would provide an additional $10 million in per-pupil funding to small, rural districts, and allow up to 30 percent of a district’s budget to come from tax overrides. Previously, the cap from tax overrides was 25 percent.

The funding could mean about $284 per student for the state’s 105 small, rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students.

It would also allow a single performance evaluation for employees who have multiple job titles, allow administrators to report expenditures at a district level rather than by school and relax state requirements related to parent involvement.

House Bill 15-1201 also affects rural districts with the creation of a $10 million grant program that boards of cooperative educational services could use to help small districts share non-academic centralized operating services.

Hayden Superintendent Trudy Vader called the bills encouraging news for rural districts that are strongly impacted by state regulatory burdens and funding cuts.

“The legislature is starting to understand that what’s been happening over the past few years has been a real burden to rural school districts,” Vader said. “It’s nice to know they’re starting to recognize there is a huge gulf between the urban, larger districts and how they absorb things and the smaller, rural districts.

While she said she is glad the state is paying attention to smaller districts like Hayden, which had 383 students enrolled at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, Vader also voiced concerns about HB-1201 and the centralized services it might provide.

“At first blush, House Bill 1201 provides an opportunity for some relief for rural school districts through centralized services, especially for those services which a district has a difficult time providing. However, I do have some concerns with the potential economic ramifications,” Vader said. “Rural school districts are most often a major employer for their communities. Before committing to centralized services, districts need to take a serious look at the economic impact upon their community. Centralized services may become a slippery slope that causes more harm than good for small rural districts.”

Both bills have been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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