Summit School District creates ballot question to redirect full-day kindergarten funds after state picks up the tab |

Summit School District creates ballot question to redirect full-day kindergarten funds after state picks up the tab

Silverthorne Elementary teacher Liz McFarland high-fives a student on the first day of school in August 2017. The Summit School District Board of Education has placed a question on the November 2019 ballot seeking to redirect money from a previous mill levy to recruiting new teachers and mental health.
Hugh Carey /

FRISCO — The Summit School District Board of Education voted to put a question on the November 2019 election ballot that would reallocate money raised for full-day kindergarten toward other uses. The decision comes after the state passed legislation earlier this year funding full-day kindergarten.

That legislation also banned school districts from charging their own fees to implement full-day kindergarten, meaning the previous 0.429 mill levy for kindergarten passed by voters in 2007 will be invalidated. As it stands, the 2007 mill levy would raise $950,000 for the district in 2020 to pay for full-day kindergarten.

The board voted to pass the resolution approving the ballot question during a special meeting Thursday. Before voting, Kara Drake, the district director of business services, presented the board with findings from a countywide survey the district commissioned from research consultant New Bridge Strategy. The survey measured public support for the potential 2019 ballot question.

The survey, conducted among 318 registered voters, revealed that residents generally approved of the school district and that the vast majority had confidence in how the district handled taxpayer money. The survey also found that residents prioritized funding to pay for teachers and to provide students with career skills.

Two proposed tax questions were tested to gauge public approval.

The first question proposed a new tax to raise money for teachers, mental health counseling, increasing bus transport coverage, career and technology classes and hiring custodial staff. As allowed under state law, the tax would raise money up to 25% of the school’s total budget, totaling $2.4 million for the 2020 school budget, which would include the $950,000 from the previous mill levy.

The second question proposed no new taxes and a permanent continuation of the existing 0.429 mill levy that funded full-day kindergarten in the district but with the $950,000 now focused on hiring and recruiting new teachers and improving mental health and behavioral counseling for students.

Both questions had majority approval from surveyed residents, with 55% approving of a tax increase and 57% approving the continuation of the existing tax. However, Drake said the first question’s support was within the 5% margin of error, with 29% disapproval. That made a tax increase more risky to put on the ballot than the tax continuation question.

Drake added that tax continuations have a track record of getting passed in the state, while a tax increase would have to compete with several other local tax increases on this year’s ballot.

For those reasons, Drake recommended the board pass the tax continuation question with modified language making it easier to understand that it was not a new tax, just an override of the previous mill levy to redirect the $950,000 to the general fund in 2020. The dollar amount will change depending on property value assessments in the future.

“We recommended the board to do the tax continuation because we haven’t been able to talk to the community about what our needs are, and we weren’t ready to really go for that tax increase in the way we thought we should,” Drake said. “The district might be looking at a tax increase in future years. But for this year, we asked voters to continue to keep the funds collected in the past.”

The school district will formally notify the county government about the resolution, and the question will appear on the ballot when voters go to the polls in November.

“Every year, it’s a struggle to stretch our budget as far as it goes. That’s the state of education funding in Colorado,” district superintendent Kerry Buhler said. “We want to make sure we are always working alongside community in all decisions that we make. Our next step is to make sure the community is well-informed and bring them on board for the ballot question.”

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