School board takes stand against ballot issue

Resolution cites long list of damaging impacts, problems with proposal

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Going against the grain of other Colorado school districts that support Amendment 66, the Douglas County School Board took a public stand against the measure during their Oct. 1 meeting. The board formally adopted a resolution opposing the issue that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The proposed statewide income tax will put a disproportionate share of the burden to fund its proposed school-finance overhaul on Douglas County residents, while returning only about half that money to the school district, according to the resolution. It also cites a lack of research to support the proposed reforms, a predicted negative effect on small businesses and job growth and a failure to address already existing education funding problems among the board members’ many reasons for opposing the issue.

Board vice president Kevin Larsen compares the amendment to Route 66, the highway eclipsed by the interstate system that once served as the major route to the western United States.

“This is an education finance tollway,” he said. “For every dollar DCSD gets, Douglas County taxpayers pay a toll of a dollar to the rest of the state. The highway really goes from Douglas to Denver.”

Though the proposed $950 million, two-tiered income tax increase would raise taxes for all, it would take a larger chunk on income earned above $75,000 a year. The median household income in Douglas County is about $95,000.

In exchange for Douglas County taxpayers sending an estimated $90 million to $100 million to the state, the school district will get back about $50 million in new funds.

Board members also cite as problematic a change in funding for at-risk students — those from low-income families and/or English-language learners. Under the proposal, districts whose enrollment of at-risk students exceeds the state average would receive up to 140 percent of the statewide average. Douglas County has relatively few students who fall into those categories.

Board member Craig Richardson called that idea “a form of financial apartheid I find outrageous.

“The concept (that) an at-risk child in this county deserves fewer resources than an at-risk child in Denver is an act of legislative cynicism,” he said.

Douglas County’s dearth of at-risk students already ranks it among the lowest for state per-pupil funding among Colorado school districts, a longstanding cause of concern in DCSD.  

“Despite the fact that the board of education agrees with the premise of reforming the antiquated School Finance Act regime and the financial inequities it produces, (this) fails adequately to resolve those inequities, and actually worsens them,” according to the resolution.

“I hope that after it does fail, we can go back to the legislature and perhaps talk them into revising the proposal they passed,” board member Doug Benevento said.

The Colorado Association of School Boards endorses the amendment and provides on its website a sample resolution for local school boards to show their support.

Eighteen Colorado school boards so far have endorsed the proposal.