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Local school districts soldier on after failure of amendment 

What comes after 66?

They weren't counting on the money, but it sure would have been nice.

Local school administrators in Colorado Springs School District 11, Falcon School District 49 and Calhan School District RJ1 all have different needs and budgets, but each would have seen extra cash from Amendment 66, which 65 percent of voters rejected Nov. 5.

Had it passed, 66 would have raised state taxes by $950 million a year for school operations, and ushered in large-scale reforms. The money wouldn't have been distributed evenly among school districts: Tiny, rural districts that often struggle to meet basic needs, and districts with high percentages of poor and disadvantaged children, would have seen greater shares.

"We're obviously disappointed," says D-11 chief financial officer Glenn Gustafson. "We're gonna continue to struggle to be competitive in the state of Colorado with other states, without these resources. And yet, we hear the voters and we will continue to try to do the best job possible."

A large urban district with over 60 schools and about 28,000 students, D-11 would have been among the districts benefiting the most from the passage of 66, because it educates many disadvantaged children. Without additional funding for the classroom, Gustafson says, the district won't be able to increase its salary schedule to make the district more attractive to the best teachers. Class sizes will remain large, and instructional programs will remain stagnant. The district will focus its budget on basic operations, further neglecting infrastructure improvements to aging buildings.

The story is different in Calhan, which has just one school for about 480 students from pre-K through Grade 12. Being a small district, Calhan would have received extra help from Amendment 66. But Superintendent Linda Miller says the district isn't struggling in the same way many other rural districts do. Calhan just finished renovating its school with voter-approved funds, and it already offers free kindergarten and preschool.

"We work hard to be resourceful," she says.

Miller, however, says that doesn't mean she couldn't have used the extra money, which she estimates would have been about $480,000 a year. Calhan's elementary students aren't performing up to academic standards — the school is on a priority improvement plan — and Miller was hoping that extra funds from 66 would allow her to pay for more professional development for teachers.

"I was really disappointed [66 failed]," she says, "but those things happen, I guess."

Meanwhile, D-49 spokesperson Stephanie Wurtz says her district wasn't nearly as excited about 66. While Wurtz says D-49 "wouldn't have turned away" extra cash, she notes that the suburban district didn't stand to gain as much, proportionally, as Calhan or D-11.

And then there's the fact that funding from 66 couldn't have been used directly to meet D-49's most pressing need: expansion of school buildings. D-49 has about 19,000 students in 23 schools. Because of a population boom in Falcon in recent years, the buildings are overcrowded, and many overflow into mobile units.

Wurtz says the failure of 66 may actually prove to be beneficial in Falcon. She believes her community prefers to make financial choices on the local level, and the district may consider asking voters to fund capital needs in the district at a future election. If 66 had already raised taxes, such a measure may have been more difficult to pass.

stanley@csindy.com

  • What comes after 66?

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