Randy Wyrick

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October 30, 2013
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School district targets salaries, class size

EAGLE COUNTY — If Amendment 66 passes, the local school district will spend its $4.3 million increase on higher teacher salaries and smaller classes, the school district said.

If Colorado voters approve Colorado’s proposed $1 billion income tax increase, the Eagle County school district says its $4.3 million in new funding would be spent in four areas:

• Increasing teacher staffing levels.

• Pay increases to retain and attract the best teachers.

• Providing all day kindergarten.

• Providing preschool for at-risk children.

How much goes to which item remains a moving target, said Dan Dougherty, the school district’s communications director. The money won’t hit local schools for two years.

“It depends on unique population and staffing variables two years from now,” Dougherty said.

Salaries and smaller classes would be their top priorities, Dougherty said.

If Amendment 66 fails and if Colorado’s economy continues to improve, the school district would still look at staffing and pay levels, Dougherty said.

The school district already provides all-day kindergarten through a combination of tuition and scholarships for those families who want it.

Overspending on administration?

Opponents say the money would be devoured by administration.

The Independence Institute cites data from the Colorado Department of Education that between 2000 and 2012, Colorado’s student population grew 19.19 percent and the number of teachers grew almost as fast, 16.53 percent.

However, Colorado’s school districts spent 51.3 percent more for administrators over that same period, according to the data opponents cite.

Supporters argue that the package guarantees the money goes to the classrooms and not to overhead and administration.

Opponents also say the $1 billion tax increase would hammer small businesses just as Colorado’s economy is finding solid footing.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation is opposing the package, saying small businesses, the poor, and the middle-class will be hit hardest. The Tax Foundation has monitored local, state and federal fiscal policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937.

“A majority of new jobs created in the U.S. between 1993 and 2011 came from small firms,” said Elizabeth Malm, a Tax Foundation economist.

Who’s paying

Supporters expect to spend more than $7 million to convince voters to approve it. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $1 million in support, and another $1 million came from the Gates Foundation.

The Douglas County school board unanimously opposed Amendment 66, arguing that the county’s taxpayers would pay $90 million to $100 million for a return to Douglas County schools of about $50 million.

Eagle County’s school board voted unanimously to support it, citing the $4.3 million in new money.

What it does, how it does it

Amendment 66 is a $1 billion state income tax increase earmarked for K-12 education. The reforms require that 43 percent of the state’s budget be spent on education. The reforms would also reallocate money based more on need than on student enrollment.

Among the new criteria would be the number of English language learners in a school district, as well as the number of at-risk kids in a school district. The at-risk data is based on the number of kids eligible for free and reduced lunches.

Under Amendment 66, students are considered at-risk if they qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program. The program is income-based.

Families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level can qualify for free lunches. Families between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.

The federal poverty level is $23,550 for a family of four.

Eagle County’s schools would fare well under Amendment 66 because 45 percent of its student population qualifies for the free-and-reduced lunch program. In three local schools, more than 70 percent of the students qualify, according to the USDA, which oversees the program.

At 36.3 percent, Eagle County Schools has one of the five highest percentages of English language learners among Colorado’s 178 school districts. The state average is 14 percent.

Under Amendment 66 and SB 213, the total funding for Eagle County’s schools would be $46,675,111, according to calculations by the Colorado Department of Education.

Of that, $3,350,957 would be allocated to support at-risk students, and $3,498,699 would be allocated to support English language learners, about 7 percent for each group.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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The VailDaily Updated Oct 30, 2013 10:21PM Published Oct 31, 2013 03:12PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.