The Crestone Eagle, January 2005:

High School consolidation?
Legislation & finances making huge impact on the future of Northern SLV schools

by Mary Lowers

A group of teachers, parents, administrators, school board members and citizens gathered in the round room at Moffat School on the chilly evening of December 2, coming from as far away as the neighboring Mountain Valley School District in Saguache, to talk about the future of education in the northern San Luis Valley.

Federal and State legislation, such as the controversial Federal No Child Left Behind Act, or the Colorado TABOR (Tax Payer Bill of Rights), Gallagher Amendment, or Colorado Constitutional Amendment 23, are forcing small rural school districts to worry about their future. School Board member Marta Shoman expressed concern, "How can we continue to focus on education when the engine driving the machine is dwindling quickly?"

Kai Beetch, Moffat School Board Member, explained that the Board had completed governance training, encouraging less micromanaging and more visioning for the future. Beetch called the meeting the first step in getting a vision of the future for the 500 square mile school district from its constituents. The audience of twenty to thirty listened intently as Beetch, Shoman, and Moffat School District Superintendent Eli Dokson explained some facts about our district's situation, and some "brutal facts impacting public education”.

Dokson explained that the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), enforces Federal rules imposed on the state school districts by the Federal government, and is connected closely to funding of education. Currently the state standard for student progress, or AYP (adequate yearly progress), is gauged by the CSAP tests which Colorado students take yearly, and has been achieved by the district two years in a row. "So far so good,” says the superintendent, warning that if a school does not make the AYP standard two years running, the CDE could come in and take over the school! Because of the low population of most rural districts, the accountability system for school accreditation, reflected on the School Report Card (SAR), can be a problem.

The Colorado tax structure, laws funding public education, make our state "among the lowest in the country, according to state taxable income," according to Dokson. Schools receive funding from local sources through: current property taxes, delinquent property taxes, and specific ownership taxes (vehicles, boats, trailers, etc.) which the school districts split with the county. Dokson reported that the sale of the Baca Ranch will "hurt district tax revenue." In Colorado Per Pupil Operating Revenue (PPOR), the budget for education each student in the district is entitled to, is "equalized" by the state.

Dokson assured the audience that Moffat Consolidated School District is in good shape financially. Finances of both district schools, Moffat School and the Crestone Charter School, are closely monitored by the District. All schools in Colorado face an uncertain financial future, and Dokson laments that "you really have to be a tax expert to figure out school financing." It was the hope of the superintendent and board members that visioning future plans for the district would put us one sep ahead of the educational funding conundrum.

Opening the meeting up for group discussion, Dokson reiterated, "Our number one concern is what's the best education to give our kids." The idea of a regional high school that would serve high school age students from the Moffat Consolidated and Mountain Valley School Districts, stirred up discussion. The consolidated high school idea was seen as a solution to facilities and equipment issues smaller high schools encounter.

Crestone Charter School Director Reynold Bean said he was very interested in a regional high school, "providing programs, lab classes, music and art that urban high schools take for granted", and which provide the urban student with an educational advantage, based on facilities, over his rural counterpart.

Michele Hashburger, Principal of Moffat School, said a complaint she hears and understands from students at the high school level is that, "There are not enough kids" in the high school. A regional high school would probably serve around 300 students; considered an ideal size for a high school. It was pointed out that the financial situation required creative solutions, like a regional high school, or the state will come in and tell us what to do!

It was pointed out that Moffat has fought before for its life as a district, and local school board members went to Denver to keep the district's autonomy. Many in the group saw our district as excellent because of its smallness. The power of parents and community members to effect education was reinforced by educators, administrators and parents. As Virginia Drake said, echoing the spirit of the audience, "You have to be brave enough to get what your child needs by working together."

The general consensus of the meeting seemed to be to further pursue the idea of a regional, consolidated high school, keeping in mind the unique culture of the existing three high schools, Moffat, Mountain Valley, and Crestone Charter School's LINK Program. It was acknowledged that prior to making this step, along with financial concerns, plans should be instituted to have the three schools interact more. It was seen that community involvement in the schools was down in the district over the last ten years and that efforts should be made to increase school and community interaction, parent involvement and a "life skills curriculum". Peter Peterson, Mountain Valley School Board member, reflected the spirit of the meeting, "As this process continues, what we are trying to do is to put the kids’ best interest at heart."

Another visioning meeting will be held at the POA Hall on January 1. If you missed the Moffat meeting in December, try to attend the Crestone gathering. Our children are our future and there are some important decisions to make.

Colorado Law impacting School Funding
Amendment 23

Constitutional Amendment passed by voters in 2000.
1. Requires the legislature to increase education funding by the annual inflation rate plus 1% through 2011-2012.
2. Creates a State education fund to circumvent TABOR.

TABOR (Tax Payer Bill Of Rights)
1. Requires voter approval for any changes in taxes or tax policy causing a revenue increase.
2. Limits revenue collection to inflation plus growth (population/ construction/ enrollment).
3. Prohibits “weakening" other limits.

Gallagher Amendment
1. 45% of property taxes paid by residential taxpayers & 55% by businesses.
2. Market value of homes has come down to meet the market value of businesses.