Moffat County wins with proposed legislation |

Moffat County wins with proposed legislation

Scott Franz

School districts in Northwest Colorado now have their first official projection of what their budgets would look like if state Sen. Mike Johnston is successful in changing how schools in the state are funded.

Financial runs released last week by Johnston, D-Denver, confirm that under a bill he is proposing to tweak the school finance formula, the Moffat County, Hayden and South Routt school districts would permanently receive more state funding per student, but the Steamboat Springs School District's financial gains would be only temporary.

Steamboat is one 24 school districts in the state that would have to either seek a property tax increase from voters within five years, or start to lose dollars from the state.

Moffat County, on the other hand, stands to be the biggest long-term financial winner of Northwest Colorado's four public school systems.

According to the financial analysis of Johnston's bill, Moffat County would receive $1,264 more per enrolled student if the legislation was made into law. Steamboat Springs would receive $485 more per enrolled student for five years after the changes start; Hayden would permanently receive $405 more; and South Routt would gain $583.

The projections assume enrollment will increase at the school districts.

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"Everyone is winning; there aren't any districts that aren't getting more investment," Johnston told the Denver Post last week.

Johnston's bill also will seek to have the state fully fund kindergarten programs at public schools. The state currently provides 58 percent of the funding.

Moffat County School Board member Christine Balderston previously had expressed optimism the bill would be a win for Moffat County students and schools. She was part of a group that traveled with the Colorado Association of School Boards to the Capitol in Denver last month.

Superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone remains cautiously optimistic about the legislation.

"We're of course pleased that they have considered changes that would lead to an increase of funding for us," he said Tuesday. "However, there are those proposing amendments as we speak.

"In our system of lawmaking, amendments will be presented, but right now it's a wait-and-see. But we can certainly share our excitement about the prospect of increased funding."

On the other side of the coin is the Steamboat Springs School District, whose Finance Director Dale Mellor projects that under Johnston's bill, his district would have to seek between $2.2 million and $2.6 million in additional property taxes each year from voters to offset potential cuts in state funding.

Mellor said that is concerning because the senator's proposed changes to the school finance formula are dependent on Colorado voters approving a major statewide tax increase in November to boost funding for public schools.

"Our point is the state will be asking voters to come up with around $1 billion for education, and then our district is going to have to go back to our own voters and ask for more money," Mellor said. "It's almost like we're double dipping here."

Mellor said he doesn't object to Johnston's goal of trying to make the school finance formula more equitable for all districts by asking some with higher assessed property values and median incomes to bump up the amount of funding they get locally.

"I don't disagree with the premise that some of these districts can afford to pay more for their share, and I understand Steamboat is one of those districts because we have such high assessed property value," Mellor said. "I just don't want to go to voters twice for the same thing."

He said he would rather see the bill automatically increase the property tax rates in the 24 districts that stand to lose state funding, but there are varying legal opinions as to whether that would be allowed.

Projected financial impact of Johnston’s bill per student

• Moffat County: +$1,264

• Steamboat Springs: +$485*

• Hayden: +$405

• South Routt: +$583

*Dependent on passage of property tax increase within five years

Source: Sen. Mike Johnston