In order to address the continued decline in state-level public education funding in Colorado, Eagle County Schools has placed a Mill Levy Override (MLO) extension on the November 2020 ballot. A Mill Levy helps fund operating costs, or the things the district spends money on every single year (like salaries, supplies, and classroom tools). The ballot title is 5B, and it’s at the end of a crowded ballot.
Around 85% of Eagle County School District’s operating costs go to compensation, including salaries and benefits. We employ around 1,000 community members and are the second largest employer in the county. Like most people, our employees spend their income mostly in the local community.
Since 2008, the state of Colorado has been unable to meet its portion of K-12 education funding as prescribed by Amendment 23. Around the 2010-11 school year, cuts in state funding resulted in a reduction of force (RIF) and services for Eagle County Schools. Because of the way the TABOR Amendment and Gallagher Amendment interact, it takes a decade or more for tax-funded local governments to rebound from drastic cuts in funding. Eagle County Schools is still not at pre-recession staffing levels.
In 2016, voters of Eagle County stepped up to support the students and staff members of Eagle County Schools by passing two key ballot initiatives. 3A was a mill levy override that generates around $8 million in annual operating revenue. 3B was a major bond initiative that renewed our buildings and infrastructure across the district. 5B seeks to continue the funding provided by 3A without increasing taxes.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, and as an international travel destination, hit Eagle County early and hard. The local, state, and national efforts made to contain COVID-19 including shutting down the economy for months. This cut tax revenue across the board and consequently, state funding to Eagle County Schools for the SY20-21 was slashed by $9 million. Like the cuts from the previous recession, these cuts are projected to last another decade.
In addition to the budget cuts, the pandemic has another component. There is an uncertainty around how the community will recover from the recession. Once the economy starts to stabilize, will we see community members move from the area to places with a lower cost of living? Will we see an influx of affluence as people leave large metro areas for the sanctity of the mountains? Any scenario impacts our enrollment, which drives our funding. School districts in Colorado project student enrollment to create an operational budget. Enrollment as of early October determines the actual funding and budgets are aligned accordingly. That means the district is faced with three challenging variables when making financial plans to operate the county’s second largest employer.
- Unpredictable funding models from the state with projected cuts approaching 10% of our total budget for successive years
- The moving target of student enrollment as the world resettles following the most disruptive pandemic in 100 years
- An expiring mill levy override that provides critical financial resources and stability that helps fund nearly 1000 jobs
Passage of 5B in November is critical for our public schools to continue delivering the quality education that will produce the enlightened voters, capable employees, innovative entrepreneurs, and inspired leaders of tomorrow's Eagle County.
5B continues the local funding from 3A and continues its focused allocation and annual, independently audited accountability. To lose the 3A funding would be compounded by COVID-19 related reductions that would forever change the face of K-12 education in Eagle County.
THE TIGHTENING LABOR MARKET
The 3A Mill Levy allowed us to address teacher compensation and increase our salary schedules to be competitive with surrounding markets. As a result, we have reduced teacher turnover and loss to higher paying districts. Not only is this an on-going need – to pay competitively – it is getting even tighter. Candidate pools are shrinking as educators seek both higher paying positions and higher paying careers. There is national concern that the stress of teaching in a pandemic will drive more teachers into early retirement or other careers. The shortage of educators is expected to get worse. Simply put, we must continue to offer competitive wages, a positive and growth-minded culture, and a supportive community to retain and recruit our most valued assets – our teachers and employees.
YOU ARE THE SOLUTION
Local schools are still the best barometer of community values. What a community invests in its school, financially and emotionally, determines what the community gets from its schools. It’s an authentic circle of life. Eagle County residents work hard for their money, they want opportunities for their children, and they invest in their local schools.
Passing 5B does not increase your property taxes. Passing 5B continues our current level of investment to provide much needed stability to keep our schools healthy.