Soroco schools seek new property tax for wage increases | SteamboatToday.com

Soroco schools seek new property tax for wage increases

Editor’s note: The annual cost of the proposed property tax is $20.99 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The amount has been corrected below.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — South Routt School District is seeking passage of a new property tax to raise an additional $250,000 per year to attract and retain teachers and staff by offering salaries and wages that are more competitive with neighboring districts.

Under Referendum 5A, South Routt residents will pay $20.99 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The new tax would be in effect for 10 years, sunsetting in 2028.

"Our teacher salaries are low compared to neighboring districts and low compared to the state," said South Routt School District Board of Education President Jules Palyo.

That disparity makes recruitment more challenging, he said.

"We've got great teachers, but they shouldn't have to financially suffer to work in our district," Palyo added.

Superintendent Rim Watson said Soroco’s salaries and wages are as much as 10 percent below comparable districts.

“Any time you post a position, you want to have the strongest applicant pool possible,” Watson said. “If salaries are not competitive, you don’t even get the opportunity to hire certain teachers.”

A similar tax is up for renewal in Hayden.

"We want to get things back to market level," Palyo said. "We've gone through a number of years with the state withholding more and more funds every year, and this will definitely help to counteract that."

In September 2017, the school board voted in a special meeting to withdraw the same new property tax measure from the ballot because of an arithmetic error in the ballot language.

As it was written, at less than $10 per $100,000 of valuation, the tax would have only generated about $114,000 annually for salaries — not the intended $250,000. At that time, Watson took responsibility for his office’s calculation error, apologized to advocates and said the incorrect math on the ballot would open results to a possible challenge, thus withdrawing it was the only option.

Prior to unanimously passing a resolution in August to put the measure on the November ballot, the school board discussed the relationship of their referendum to Amendment 73.

Amendment 73, a statewide tax increase, would generate about $1.6 billion for schools by raising personal income taxes for residents making more than $150,000 per year, raising the corporate income tax and making adjustments to property taxes.

The board debated whether or not to make Referendum 5A conditional — telling voters if Amendment 73 passes, 5A would be withdrawn. The consensus was to not connect the two ballot measures.

Other districts have gone through similar debates. In Telluride and Garfield counties, the districts went with ballot measures tied to Amendment 73.

If approved, Amendment 73 would generate an additional $700,000 annually for South Routt Schools.

"No matter whether 73 fails or succeeds," said Palyo, "we still need it [5A] to keep pace. Hopefully, we can gain ground and get to market rates."

Palyo also touted the district's climbing rankings in the most recent 2018 performance framework, as reported by the Colorado Department of Education. While the data still must be finalized, in the preliminary release, South Routt ranked 10th among districts in the state.

Broken down to the school level, Watson said both Soroco High School and Soroco Middle School ranked number one among seven districts in Northwest Colorado. While Steamboat Springs ranked higher as a district — No. 3 in the state — the high school and middle school both ranked No. 2 behind South Routt schools.

“It’s great news,” Watson said. “And a great message for teachers, students and the community about the level of education received.”

"We worked really hard for that," Palyo said. "It was a team effort — top to bottom.”

But teachers are key to retaining that level of success.

“Our employees in South Routt School District are among the highest performing in the state for student achievement,” Watson said. “And therefore, deserve to be paid at least among the highest in Northwest Colorado.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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