For Gilpin Schools
By Patty Unruh
“Yes for Gilpin Kids,” the committee campaigning for the passage of the 3A mill levy override in the November 5 election, held a town hall meeting at Gilpin County School on the evening of October 15. 3A is a local ballot issue that would increase residential and commercial property tax rates within the Gilpin RE-1 school district.
A mill levy is a term for property taxes and equals one one-thousandth of an assessed value. An override is the amount of taxes voted in by local voters for the school district above and beyond what the state sends to each district on an annual basis.
A small group gathered to voice their opinions and ask questions. Members of the campaign committee present included Kevin Armstrong, president, Gigetta Nadeau, vice president, and Nancy Larsen, secretary. School board members Craig Holmes, president, Charlotte Taylor, secretary-treasurer, and Kersten Armstrong, member-at-large, were also present, along with Superintendent David Mackenzie.
The campaign committee explained that the bonds that were used to pay for the school’s construction in 2000 will be paid off by January or February of 2014. The current mill levy is 12.705 mills, and when the bond is satisfied, the mill levy will be reduced to 6.274 mills. The school district is asking permission to keep 1.699 mills of that decrease, resulting in just less than 8 mills.
Voters in November will also be considering Amendment 66, the state-wide constitutional amendment that would increase state income tax rates for the purpose of increasing funding of public education. That initiative would amend the current school finance act and would involve the imposition of a graduated income tax. The Gilpin County Board of Education has adopted a resolution not to support passage of the amendment because the Board says passage would not allow for retention of local control and would also violate an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Black Hawk (see below). Funds collected through the amendment would go to the state education fund with no guarantee of how much of the money would come to Gilpin.
According to material prepared by the Yes for Gilpin Kids committee, on a $300,000 home, at the current mill levy rate, the taxes are $288 per year. When the bonds are paid, the $288 will go down to about $141 per year. If 3A passes, the taxes will be about $183 per year, so the request would be $42 per year higher than if it did not pass.
The district states it has lost more than $1.4 million in funding from the state of Colorado and the federal government since 2008 and that it is operating on funding levels of six years ago.
The district has been able to keep its mill levy lower than surrounding districts in part due to a 2008 intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the City of Black Hawk. According to that agreement, Black Hawk collects a 1.5 percent sales tax, called an education enhancement tax, which is collected and given to the school district. To date, the school has received over $3 million from the tax, including $750,000 in the past year. It is anticipated that this will increase over the next few years due to planned economic expansion in Black Hawk. These funds, while likely to continue, are not guaranteed.
The goal of the bond issue is to fund current district needs in the short term and allow the district to reduce the mill as needed back to the 6.274 level as Black Hawk funds grow with the planned development. The committee says the end result will be lower taxes than current levels in the short term and the lowering of taxes in the long term.
The district hopes to use funds from the mill levy override to provide students with updated technology, provide better classroom instruction, and allow for increased monitoring and development of teacher skills in line with Senate Bill 191, which specifies the way educators are to be evaluated in Colorado. The district also plans to secure a school resource officer, maintain the school building, and cover increases in utilities and transportation. The ultimate goal is to make Gilpin “a school of destination,” where families place their students because they find the school desirable, not just because they live in the area.
The combination of the proposed mill levy override and the Black Hawk funding, the committee advises, is what keeps the district able to continue operating and retain local control.
Research done by the committee showed Jefferson County at a mill levy of about 50.616 mills, or $1,147 on a $300,000 home per year; and Boulder County at about 45.547 mills, or $1,032 per year.
It was noted by the meeting participants that Gilpin County traditionally does not support tax increases for education.
Chris Patrick, a community member attending, voiced opposition to a tax increase and felt the wording of the request for a mill levy override was deceptive, stating that a tax increase was being called a decrease. He said, “I have issues with how this is being sold. I don’t mind spending, but going to the taxpayer should be the last thing we do. I don’t want to throw good money after bad.”
Anne Fattor, formerly on the Gilpin school board a number of years ago, said, “My question is, ‘What happens to state funding if we opt not to increase our mill levy?’ No one has been able to answer that.” She also questioned whether money from the City of Black Hawk goes directly to the classroom, and since technology tools are at issue, wondered if the money could be spent on technology.
Craig Holmes advised in the affirmative and stated that it was not to be used for administration.
Nancy Larsen added that if Amendment 66 passes, the district still needed to go to the voters to get 10.12 mills. “It would not necessarily impact current funding levels from the state,” she said. “There is $65,000 a year if 66 passes for Gilpin. We may lose out on that if we don’t pass the mill levy, but we wouldn’t lose current funding.”
Charlotte Taylor commented that the district wants the best small school in the state. “We’ve tried not to lose teachers and programs. We have infrastructure and technical needs.” She added that previously, the school had been losing students, particularly at the secondary level. “Now we are flat-lined instead of losing,” she said, which was seen by the meeting participants as progress.
Holmes said that the district is working to build secondary programs, such as gifted and talented, and providing fully paid college credits so that students could actually earn an associate’s degree while in high school.
Fattor responded that there are many schools where that is possible. She touched on a reason for possible lack of enthusiasm for the mill levy issue when she added, “I don’t hear anything about the school until the paper comes out, and then it’s just what’s already happened. This community is not vested in this school. It used to be a center of the community, and we’ve lost some of that. If people are more invested, they’d be more willing to spend [for a tax increase].”
Gigetta Nadeau admitted that the timing of the request for the mill levy override was “unfortunate.” She encouraged, “Trust in our leadership. We are trying to get community involvement.”
Barbara Thielemann noted that the lack of community involvement seems to have pervaded other areas than just the school. A citizen of Central City for twenty years, she said, “Every year, involvement gets less and less.” She said that as a volunteer at the school, she sees how hard the staff works. She noted, “Requirements are different than when we went to school.”
Others agreed, saying that Senate Bill 191 places a big burden on administrators to evaluate teachers and report to the state, as well as on the teachers themselves.
Holmes said, “We have cut three administrative positions in six years, and we’ve dropped a bus route, but we haven’t cut teaching.”
Taylor concluded with this concern: “We’ve tightened our belt and we can again, but we’ll lose momentum.”