Passed, failed amendments to affect local education groups |

Passed, failed amendments to affect local education groups

Bridget Manley

There were mixed results Tuesday on amendments local education groups took a stand on.

Colorado voters voted down two measures that would have channeled funding to education.

At the same time, however, they approved two other measures: One which will add funds to community colleges, and another that leaves a state teacher union questioning how to use earmarked dollars.

Voters say no to SAFE

Amendment 59, also known as Savings Account For Education, would have repealed a provision of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights regulating how much the government can spend.

TABOR currently restricts the amount of money the government can keep and spend, and it requires that excess dollars be refunded to taxpayers. At the same time, under Amendment 23, it requires per-pupil funding to increase annually by inflation plus 1 percent.

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Instead of returning excess tax revenue to taxpayers, SAFE would have placed them in a savings account for schools. With approval from the state legislature, school districts could use the funds for projects designed to improve student achievement.

The Moffat County School Board unanimously voted to support the amendment.

That’s not to say SAFE didn’t have potential pitfalls.

SAFE also would have taken away Amendment’s 23 inflation-plus-1-percent funding increase. The provision that makes annual school funding easier to predict, District Finance Director Mark Rydberg said previously.

Those provisions are scheduled to sunset in 2011.

Funds provided by Amendment 23’s formula accounts for 75 percent of the school district’s annual revenue. Still, Amendment 59 was a “proactive” measure designed to solve problems in education funding, including the state budget’s fluctuation with the economy, said Ken Sanguin, Savings Account For Education campaign manager.

“Those problems are still out there,” he added. “We’re looking down the barrel of a recession right now.

“That’s going to affect our ability to properly fund our schools and prepare our kids.”

However, Amendment 59 supporters haven’t relinquished their cause. Instead, they will look to the upcoming legislative session to solve problems they see in school funding.

“We will be back,” Sanguin said. “I can’t say necessarily next election or the election after that.

“But the forces that forces in the state (that) want good education for our kids will continue to utilize the electoral process and the initiative process.”

One up, one down

Although a majority of voters didn’t share the school board’s faith in SAFE, they did pass an amendment that could bring more money to higher education.

Amendment 50, which was aimed at boosting community colleges’ revenue through gaming proceeds, found favor with voters this year.

In August, Colorado Northwestern Community College’s Craig board formally backed the measure.

The amendment gives Colorado gaming communities the choice to extend casino hours, increase maximum bets up to $100 and add games to approved gaming offerings. This change to the state’s constitution also will give community colleges 78 percent of excess gaming tax revenue.

Those dollars would be used for student financial aid and classroom instruction.

“Obviously, we’re very excited about this,” said Gene Bilodeau, CNCC Craig campus dean.

He added that Amendment 50 could bring about $23 million in new funding to the community college system in its first year and about $182 million over the next five years.

Still, state community colleges don’t have funds in hand yet.

Voters in the gaming communities of Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek still have to approve one or more of the three potential revenue boosters provided by the amendment.

“I suspect they would probably vote yes to varying degrees on those” options, Bilodeau said. “But we’ll just have to wait and see.”

State teachers union

Colorado voters passed Amendment 54 Tuesday, which prohibits holders of sole-source government contracts worth $100,000 or more from making campaign contributions.

In September, Ron Brady, former Colorado Education Association president, urged members of the Moffat County Education Association, a local labor union for teachers, to vote against the amendment.

The amendment included collective bargaining agreements as a sole-source, non-competitive government contract. Brady said 54 was designed to silence unions.

Now that the amendment has passed, the Colorado Education Association, of which the MCEA is a local branch, “is now at a crossroads,” said Michele Conroy, MCEA co-president.

The Education Association, which is a voluntary union, collects $39 from each member, for political contributions to pro-education candidates and amendments and, this year, amendments perceived as being aimed against unions.

The fee, known as Every Member Option, is voluntary, Conroy said.

“If they feel like they don’t want to endorse certain candidates or support certain ballot issues, they can request their EMO money back,” Conroy said, adding that the request must be made by Dec. 15.

CEA now must determine how those funds will be used, as, under 54, they no longer can be given to political campaigns.

Not to affect college

However, another potential source of student aid failed. Amendment 58, in part, would have set up a severance tax fund, the majority of which would have been earmarked for scholarships for Colorado students attending in-state colleges.

However, John Boyd, CNCC president, said the amendment’s failure won’t impact the college.

CNCC officials hadn’t counted on receiving funds from the amendment had it passed.

To the contrary, Boyd said he wasn’t familiar with the amendment’s finer points and added that college officials hadn’t looked at Amendment 58 as a “feasible possibility” for extra funding.