Educators in Steamboat predict a tax increase for public schools faces another uphill battle in November |

Educators in Steamboat predict a tax increase for public schools faces another uphill battle in November

Scott Franz
Steamboat Springs Middle School students work in a computer lab. Some leading educators here say a proposed tax increase to support education will be difficult to pass in November.
Scott Franz

— Two years after the failure of Proposition 103, some educators and school board members in Steamboat Springs aren’t bullish on the prospect of Colorado voters approving a new tax increase for public education.

“Even if it had the full backing of the education community, I suspect it will be an uphill battle just because of the size of it and the economic times,” Steamboat School Board President Brian Kelly said late last month. “The economic times are getting better, but many people and many businesses are still in recovery mode.”

Voters here in 2011 joined their peers statewide to overwhelmingly reject a proposal that would have raised income and sales taxes here for five years to generate $2.9 billion for public schools.

Proposition 103 was endorsed by the school boards in Steamboat and South Routt, but it faced criticism from legislators who said the tax increase couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Businesses still were reeling from the economic recession, and 60 percent of Routt County voters rejected the tax increase.

Today, the Colorado Education Association and other groups in the state are working to collect the 86,105 signatures they need to place on the November ballot a new two-tiered income tax initiative that would generate an estimated $950 million for public education.

The Denver Post reported in late June that the ballot initiative specifically aims to raise the state’s income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for those who have a taxable income of less than $75,000 per year.

Higher earners would be taxed at a rate of 5 percent for their income up to $75,000 and 5.9 percent for their earnings above that, the Post reported.

The tax increase would be used to fund a major overhaul of the formula used to determine how much school districts in the state receive.

The overhaul was proposed by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and will go into effect if the tax initiative is successful.

Proponents say the rewrite of the finance formula along with an infusion of nearly $1 billion will more equitably fund schools and offer other incentives, including new funding for full day kindergarten for all school districts.

“We’re having great success right now, and voters are responding very positively to the idea of putting a greater investment into our public schools and into our students,” Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman recently told the Post amid her organization’s efforts to collect signatures for the ballot initiative.

But here in Steamboat, the legislation the tax would support continues to draw some skepticism from Steamboat Springs School Board members and Superintendent Brad Meeks, and it also does not have the backing of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus that represents and lobbies on behalf of more than 100 rural districts in the state.

Kellly said the skepticism from education leaders here is likely to make it more difficult to generate support for the tax question locally.

“If the proponents of education have questions about it, it leaves serious questions about how many members of the general public will support it,” he said.

He said as the tax question approaches, the district continues to face some economic challenges, including uncontrolled expenses that include the rising cost of pensions, energy and health insurance.

Kelly planned to read the lengthy, complex education bill from cover to cover to better understand its impacts.

The board likely will vote in the fall whether to endorse the bill and the tax initiative that would fund it, he said.

While some remain skeptical of the bill in Steamboat, it earned immediate praise from the superintendents in South Routt and Hayden.

“It would be a huge benefit for us,” South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader told the Steamboat Today in February. “It would definitely put us in a better position with our budgets.”

Still, supporters like Mader and Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes have acknowledged getting a tax increase passed in the current economic climate will be a challenge.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email

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