D51 property tax hike defeated, school board members "disappointed"

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- Voters overwhelmingly shot down a proposed property tax hike to help fund District 51 schools.

Over the past three years, state funding cuts have forced the district to cut approximately $28 million out of its budget. Based on the Governor's 2012 budget proposal released Tuesday, district officials say they'll likely have to cut at least $5 million out of next year's budget. With no additional money coming in, board members say the next round of cuts will hurt.

It was a somber night at a District 51 watch party Tuesday as election results came in.

"I am so sad," said School Board Member Leslie Kiesler. "Excuse me for getting emotional because this is really going to affect the students and it's going to affect their education."

Kiesler says she and other board members have done their best in recent years to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible -- but now they're left with virtually no other options.

"Our kids are our future," said Kiesler. "All we were asking was to help support their future."

Given that most of the district's funding goes towards paying teachers' salaries and benefits, teaching positions are likely to come up in discussions about where to make cuts.

The Mesa Valley Education Association -- a local teacher's union -- says it's disappointed that more teachers could face layoffs. It also points out that enrollment numbers have not dropped significantly, meaning any teacher reduction will result in larger class sizes.

"There will be some tough decisions to make," said Jim Smyth, President of the Mesa Valley Education Association. "And I don't know that the public understands or believes what they hear."

Opponents of 3B say they do understand that the school district is facing tough times, but argue families and businesses are too -- and if they have to make the hard decisions, so should the school district.

"As you make cuts, as you change schedules, as you close buildings or whatever you need to do, that needs to be the guiding focus -- be sure you have quality teachers in the classroom and students will still be educated," said Phyllis Hunsinger, a former superintendent of the West End School District and an opponent of 3B.

State Senator Steve King, who supported 3B, says he will fight to bring more state money to District 51, which is one of the lowest funded school districts in the state. He says he's also hopeful his colleagues will fight to soften any blows K-12 funding may take.

"At a certain point, you're going to have a dysfunctional school system," said King.

District 51 says it will hold off on making any big decisions until the State Legislature reconvenes in January and they get a better idea of exactly how much they'll need to cut.

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