Voters in Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) Re-1 will decide the fate of Ballot Issue 5B, a mill levy override that, if passed, will increase teacher and staff salaries and bolster the district’s retention and recruitment efforts.
On Aug. 25, the RFSD Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to place the initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot for the three communities within Re-1: Carbondale, Basalt and Glenwood Springs.
The ballot language reads that property taxes within RFSD will be increased to a maximum of $7.7 million annually in 2022 and adjusted for inflation each year thereafter.
Homeowners would pay $3.62 per month per $100,000 of their home’s assessed value. The average homeowner in RFSD would pay an additional $14.21 per month.
Autumn Rivera, co-chair of the “Yes on 5B” committee, said passage of the ballot issue would translate to a 10 to 12 percent pay increase for staff members and teachers.
She reiterated these additional funds stay within RFSD and will not be used to pay salaries for the senior district leadership team, saying, “It’s about trying to support our teachers and our staff — bus drivers, custodians, food workers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and health workers.”
RFSD faces increased competitiveness from surrounding districts to attract and retain quality teachers and staff. Comparing RFSD’s average per-pupil mill levy override funding to that of the Aspen, Eagle County, Garfield County Re-2 and Re-16 school districts, Rivera explained, “If you take all of those districts, we currently are collecting the smallest amount of mill levy override money right now. This would help us rise up and be on par with them.”
In a Business.org teacher pay survey published in July, Colorado ranks 49 out of 51 (50 states plus the District of Columbia) in a state-by-state comparison of teacher earnings. And while RFSD has the third-highest cost of living in the state, it ranks 23rd in average teacher pay.
According to Rivera, the starting wage for an RFSD teacher is about $41,000 annually, and the average teacher salary is about $50,000. The National Education Association estimates the national average teacher salary was $65,090 for the 2020-21 school year.
About five years ago, a committee started looking into ways to alleviate lagging teacher and staff salaries, “and we realized the numbers weren’t getting any better,” Rivera said.
In 2019, some teachers and administrators started meeting as part of an interest-based bargaining committee focused on the RFSD budget. “We spent a long time looking at the numbers, cutting what we could, and we cut down to almost the bone, and still it was not solving the problem, so we realized we had to do something else,” she said.
They wanted to present the voters with a mill levy override in 2020; however, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. With their plans postponed, Rivera shared, “the numbers continued to get worse.”
This school year began with over 70 district positions unfilled. Rivera said, “I sat in on many interviews where we would find a great candidate, and we’d offer them a job. They researched the cost of living, realizing they couldn’t do it, and turned down the job. Seventy-five percent of the candidates we offered jobs to turned them down.”
Schools are funded by a combination of state and local property tax revenues. The Gallagher Amendment, passed in 1982, and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) — adopted by voters as an amendment to Colorado’s state constitution in 1992 — placed strict limits on government revenues and spending growth. Some voters have said these measures hamper local governments’ ability to adequately fund schools.
Amendment B, which passed in November 2020, was a partial repeal of the Gallagher Amendment. Still, many argue more must be done to rectify funding inequities.
Rivera said Colorado’s education funding formula has resulted in “[high school] seniors, graduating this year, who have gone their entire 12 years of school and have never had a properly funded school year.”
Rivera concluded, “Education only makes society better. We can give to our community by having strong schools and attracting new and awesome teachers, but also keeping the teachers and staff who have been committed to our community and students.”
For more information about Ballot Issue 5B, visit https://www.yeson5b.com/
There were no registered opponents to the ballot initiative.