Vail Daily column: Crowded ballot this year
October 25, 2016
Voters across Colorado face a crowded and complex ballot this year. Some of this is the result of the strong value of "direct democracy" embedded in the state Constitution, which makes it relatively easy to place constitutional amendments or changes to state law (called "propositions") on the ballot and to let the people vote on the changes directly.
So, when you are wondering why there is a half-page of legal-ese on your ballot about health care, the minimum-wage, tobacco taxes and medically assisted suicide — you can thank the concept of direct democracy.
Another reason for the crowded ballot has to do with something called the TABOR Amendment (for Taxpayer Bill of Rights), yet another amendment to the Colorado Constitution which passed in 1992. Among other provisions, TABOR takes away the authority of state and local governments in Colorado to increase taxes or debt and instead requires that those questions be put to a popular vote.
This is why you see a couple of our local institutions (the county government and Eagle County Schools) putting forth tax increase proposals on the ballot.
Yet another reason for this year's multi-page ballot has to do with the timing of the election cycle. Presidential election years have the highest voter turnout levels, where younger voters and those more predisposed to support tax proposals show up to vote. In off-year elections (such as the one we will have in 2017) the voter turnout will be lower, and the demographic tends to skew older and more fiscally conservative.
This demographic turnout factor explains (at least partially) why we tend to see Democrats make big gains in Congress on presidential election years, and then turn around and lose seats to the Republican Party in the next cycle — though there certainly have been exceptions to this trend.
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This year in Colorado there are a record breaking 62 different school-related measures being put forth to voters. These measures also break records for both dollar amount and the number of students that will benefit. This includes the two from Eagle County Schools (3A, a mill levy override for operational expenses and 3B, a bond for construction).
School districts have a quantifiable reason to be on the ballot this year. Over the course of the recession, school budgets in Colorado were cut about 13 percent statewide. These cuts are cumulative (ongoing) and in Eagle County alone, amount to a whopping $47 million cumulative loss in funds since the recession. Next year, it will likely be a cumulative $54 million loss, if not more. And, on it will go into the foreseeable future.
Those are some big numbers. To put this in perspective in terms of direct impact on our schools, consider where we were in 2010 vs. today. Since 2010, Eagle County Schools has enrolled about 1,032 more students. If we wanted to accommodate all these additional students at 2010 staffing ratios, then we would need to hire an additional 64 teachers today just to keep level with student growth.
But that's not all. School districts in Colorado (including Eagle County) had to shrink their organizations to fit within this new fiscal reality. Cutting back on staff was a big part of that, but our district also cut or froze salaries and stopped expenditures on things such as buses and building maintenance.
For schools in Colorado, the recession is not over. Teachers in Eagle County had a pay freeze for this current year and help is likely not on the way from the state Legislature. The latest budget reports from the state foretell another shortfall for the coming fiscal year. There will be no bail-out from the golden dome. The cavalry is not on the way.
So, for school districts across the state, this year's election will mark several make-or-break moments for their local community. Will communities take matters into their own hands, agree to the proposed tax increases to better fund their schools, and make the education of their kids a local priority? Or will they leave them to the outcome of the legislative process?
As superintendent and a public employee, I am prohibited from advocating for anything on the ballot in my professional role. Instead, I must give a balanced perspective. Certainly, questions 3A and 3B would tremendously benefit schools. However, it is a tax increase.
I encourage you to learn about these issues in more detail and reach your own conclusions. As a public service message, please be sure to look at both sides of each page in your ballot, use a black or blue pen, sign the outside envelope, and if you mail it, put two stamps on it.
On the evening of Nov. 8, all will be revealed.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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