School board votes for mill levy to fund full-day kindergarten
Steamboat Springs — Voters this fall will decide whether to approve a tax increase to fund free full-day kindergarten for students in the Steamboat Springs School District.
The Steamboat Springs Board of Education voted 3-2 in a special meeting Tuesday night to put a mill levy override on November’s ballot.
The levy would vary each year based on kindergarten enrollment and state funding, and the district would stop collecting tax if the state decided to fund full-day kindergarten statewide.
The board voted on a levy that would not sunset but would continue in perpetuity as long as the funding was needed.
“I want to take advantage of this even-numbered political year to take the pulse of voters,” said board member Sam Rush, who acknowledged before voting that she could be considered the swing vote on the issue. “I think if we let the voters speak to what they want, then we know.”
Rush, along with board members Margie Huron and Michelle Dover voted in favor of the mill levy, while board members Roger Good and Joey Andrew voted against it.
While the levy would vary each year, district estimates suggest that if there were 170 kindergarten students in a given year, the impact to a residential homeowner would be $5 per $100,000 of value, or $25 annually on a home with an assessed value of $500,000.
For a commercial property owner in the same scenario, the impact would be $18.50 per $100,000 of assessed value, or $185 annually for a commercial property valued at $1 million.
The board held a discussion with Education Fund Board President Sam Jones during the meeting about whether the Education Fund would be a potential source of funding for full-day kindergarten, rather than a mill levy.
Jones said the Education Fund Board has historically been very supportive of student-facing requests, including full-day kindergarten, but cautioned that the Education Fund has a fixed budget, and funding one request means not funding something else.
Andrew repeated his earlier concerns over the community’s “threshold for pain” with tax increases, and questioned who would run the campaign.
Good said he would have liked the board to have decided on this issue earlier to allow more preparation time before the election. He also questioned whether the board should pursue a funding solution to help only the high-need students in the district who truly can’t afford full-day kindergarten tuition, which would be a much smaller amount of funding.
The state currently funds kindergarteners at 58 percent of the amount that other full-time students are funded, leaving districts to charge tuition or absorb the costs of the remaining 42 percent, which is about $3,100 currently.
Historically, the district has charged $2,400 in annual tuition and subsidized the rest, except for during the 2015-16 school year when the district requested funding from the Education Fund Board to eliminate tuition, and the current year, when the district is charging $600 and subsidizing the rest, along with a small grant from the Education Fund.
For an estimated 170 kindergarten students, the mill levy override would generate $530,500 annually.
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