Summit School District requests $70 million in critical funding with 3A & 3B
October 2, 2016
The Summit School District is hoping that come November taxpayers in the county are willing to help fund education to the financial tune of about two lattes a month.
In August, the school board approved ballot measures requesting more than $70 million in funding to help with critical building repairs, improvements and expansions. Combined, a mill levy (Question 3A) and new bond (Question 3B), ask that voters provide approximately $7 each month per $500,000 of assessed property value to allow for these needs.
The mill levy, presented as a sort of ongoing savings account, is intended for capital construction projects, maintenance and instructional technology, and expected to generate an estimated $1.8 million annually. The bond proposal, meanwhile, is for a one-time $68.9 million sum and would be used to address current necessities such as increasing school safety and ADA accessibility at each of the district's buildings. This money would have to be spent in the next three years, going toward additional classroom and cafeteria space at the middle and high schools, as well as a gym at the latter, to fend off overcrowding.
"It's not just about growth that will be coming to our schools, but it's about the growth that's already here," superintendent Kerry Buhler explained to the Board of County Commissioners late last month. "They're feeling the pinch already, the high school especially, but the middle school also. Within two years, we will be over capacity in those buildings."
State funding for public schools remains more and more limited by the year, and because of this the amount of deferred maintenance locally has only continued to mount. In turn, as part of its strategic plan, Vision 2020, for the next five years, the school district hired a consultant firm to start into a master planning process this past fall. This determined all of the district's resources and also identified a long-term plan for preserving current assets, in addition to what may be needed in the future based on educated projections.
Once all the school deficiencies were diagnosed, the district went about polling the community in the spring to see how much it might be able to reasonably request. Phone and 13-question mailer surveys testing the waters on both $73-million and $97-million bond totals each performed favorably and then it became a matter of deciding what were the biggest priorities.
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"We did cut it back," said Buhler, "because we know that we would need to spend that money within three years, and wanted to be as responsible as possible with what we asked for, and what we knew we could plan for and spend in that short amount of time. So we settled on what we really, really needed, which ended up being that $68.9 million."
"This really addresses our immediate needs," added school board president Margaret Carlson. "We need this now."
Those tier-one and tier-two priorities include roof and heating and cooling replacements, as well as plumbing and sidewalk repairs. The desire to enhance entrance vestibules along with camera and door access systems is also high up. The district then hopes to define and address tier-three and tier-four projects on the north and south ends of the county in future years. Discussions are already beginning on possibly building another elementary school and employee housing, for instance.
To postpone some of these eventual needs was not ideal, but district board members also felt it more sensible for the time being.
"It came down to hard discussions about what were our priorities given the situation that the schools don't have unlimited funds," said Marilyn Taylor, board secretary. "We really hard some hard decision making, which made me say, 'Yeah, let's take care of the high school growth and the middle school growth first."
The ballot measures are the first time the district has asked for funds from voters since 2010. Three prior bonds are also expiring just as the new one would take if passed, resulting in the slight tax increase.
The plan has already received the endorsements of a multitude of community organizations. The Board of County Commissioners, towns of Breckenridge and Frisco, The Summit Foundation and the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) have all have approved or at least drafted resolutions supporting authorizing the ballot funds. Breckenridge Grand Vacations has also offered a $10,000 matching community challenge grant.
No organized opposition to the Citizens for Strong Summit Schools campaign has been articulated, but a spokesperson for the district said the area school system does not take prior favorable polling for granted. Which is why postcards, mailers, yard signs and radio and print ads appealing to voters to approve the mill levy and bond measure together are becoming more ubiquitous as Election Day gets closer.
"We've been lucky in this community with the support of our taxpayers," said Buhler, "in supporting our schools so they really are strong schools that it benefits everybody in the community. But we feel at this point, this is imminent for us in terms of making sure that we really take care of our assets."
For more information about Citizens for Strong Summit Schools, visit: http://www.strongsummitschools.org.