School board readies tactful campaign
BRECKENRIDGE – For the Summit School Board, winning voter approval in November for a crucial extension of a current mill levy, and possibly a bond issue on top of it, will come down to educating voters with the bad news – without making it sound like a threat.
Even with several major renovation and construction projects under way or completed already, the school district’s buildings still need major work. A special mill levy approved three years ago gave administrators and the school board the cash to tackle major projects, including the construction of a new Silverthorne Elementary School set to open its doors in August. But the mill levy expires this year, with seven years of the district’s ambitious, 10-year facilities plan yet to go.
So as school board members considered the cold facts Wednesday night at their meeting at Upper Blue Elementary, they realized their political campaign for the next six months would require deft publicity, because the harsh, fiscal reality is this: The school district currently spends nearly $3 million annually on building maintenance and classroom technology, an expense possible because the 2001 mill levy created a special fund for that purpose. If voters discontinue the tax, money will have to be diverted from the district’s general fund.
That shortfall would necessitate an 11 percent cut across the board. In terms of the toll on payroll alone, that 11 percent cut would translate into the layoff of 27 of the district’s 236 teachers.
In addition, if board members do pursue asking voters to authorize a bond issue, pegged at $30 million or more, the board is unlikely to initiate the bond offer without the approval of the mill levy.
By using the bond funds to build more schools, and thus increase the district’s maintenance liabilities, further cuts and diversions in the general fund would be required without the continuation of the building and technology mill levy.
Board members listened to a presentation from bond election consultant Steve Jeffers Wednesday and quickly agreed that, somehow, voters must be informed of these important facts without feeling as though they’re being intimidated or threatened.
“It’s like I always tell people, ‘Wear your shorts, but bring your jeans because it’s liable to get cold out,'” said Boardmember Jay Brunvand, later adding, “Reality sucks on this one.”
But the board already has a plan for convincing voters without coercing them, and a parent- and faculty-organized committee is gathering support for a campaign.
In the next two weeks, board members will edit a draft of a “positioning statement” – election-speak for an articulation of the why, what and how much associated with the mill levy and bond issue.
Simply, the statement, which will be a part of at least three direct mailings to registered voters, will express the need for the construction money and what will happen without it.
The informational campaign will also explain to voters that the mill levy is nothing new. Voters approved the property tax in 2001, resulting in an average $230 tax increase for every homeowner (less than projected). With that money, the district is building the new Silverthorne elementary and has completed additions and renovations at Dillon Valley and Breckenridge elementary schools.
As the board refines this information and position, the mission will be “spreading the message.” To help get the word out, the board has identified close to 500 key decision-makers – influence-wielding movers and shakers in Summit County – to bring onto the bandwagon. The list includes government officials, board members of nonprofits and participants in community groups. The message spreading will be augmented by more direct mailings.
A parent-centered group also met Tuesday night, organized by Debbie Nelson. Nelson told the board Wednesday that more than 50 people attended the campaign kickoff, and another 25 are on an e-mail list for support. The school board will continue to discuss the “message” at a June 9 worksession.
In other school board business Wednesday night, directors elected new officers. Board members voted to retain acting president Kristy Johnson in her position. The board also voted Jay Brunvand as vice president and Bob Bowers as secretary. Stuart Adams will continue to serve as board treasurer.
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