Election features two school-bond issues

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In Montezuma County, two school-bond issues are coming up for a vote in November.

Mancos Re-6 Ballot Measure 3A

Mancos residents will be asked to approve a bond measure to raise taxes to renovate school buildings. The Mancos High School is the oldest continuously used high school in the entire state of Colorado and is listed on the National Historic Register. The school facilities are in need of maintenance and renovation, a fact most residents of Mancos are aware of.

The bond measure, Ballot Question 3A, would increase the school district’s debt by $4.98 million in order to raise matching funds for a BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today)-approved grant. The matching funds would allow the school district to receive $19.7 million in state funding. If voters don’t approve the measure, the state grant will not be available for use in Mancos any more.

The funds would be used to improve traffic flow in front of the pre-school. The bond is to be paid off by raising district property taxes up to a total of $575,000 annually.

“The idea that the state is willing to give us $20 million with only a 20 percent match is unprecedented,” Anne Benson, a member of the volunteer committee supporting the bond measure, told the Free Press. “We are the first and only district to receive that kind of break on the matching funds.”

The $24,680,000 is designated for a campus improvement project to repair infrastructure, incorporate security measures, upgrade classrooms and technology, and make the entire campus safer.

“The facilities are aging and in need of repair and this is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the school district to upgrade both building technology and safety,” Benson said.

She said safety is a major concern at the Mancos schools.

“We have no security. Lots of things can go wrong. Anyone can walk right through and get in. The doors to the classrooms are ancient – it’s difficult to keep people out.”

Other concerns about the aging buildings, she said, include:

  • There are no fire sprinklers,
  • The roof leaks in at least three of the buildings,
  • The kitchen is small and the cafeteria is also used for a gym floor.
  • Dropping kids off in front of the school is difficult.

“The road going into the pre-school on Walnut Street is pretty much a nightmare right now,” Benson said. “We need safe parking for students and staff, so pre-schoolers can go into campus without going onto the main road.” The project would include funding for improvements to Walnut Street and construction of a parking lot near the elementary school.

The campus upgrade would provide for a number of improvements, she said. The middle school’s two buildings would be connected, so kids don’t have to go in and out to get from class to class. Heating and the server room will be housed one room instead of spread all over campus to have good internet and security systems so they can monitor the whole campus. A new elementary- school playground would be built. The school nurse, who currently operates out of a minuscule closet, might be able to have a modest clinic.

A community meeting featuring a school-board presentation and discussion of the proposal will take place Oct. 23, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Mancos Public Library, 211 W. 1st St.

For more information, contact Anne Benson, southwestanne@yahoo.com, 970-946-7039 or visit www.facebook. com/MancosSchoolBondVoteYes.

Cortez Re-1 Ballot Measure 3B

Once upon a time, teachers were generally admired, and teaching was considered a good job – if not for the money, then for the benefits. But times are changing.

Colorado is in the midst of a serious teacher shortage, and the situation doesn’t seem likely to improve soon. The Denver Post reported in April that up to 3,000 new teachers are needed to fill positions in classrooms statewide, but fewer and fewer people are graduating from teacher-preparation programs. The number of such graduates has reportedly declined by nearly 25 percent over the past five years.

Endless paperwork, constant criticism, and stressful, overcrowded classrooms are all factors in the decline of teaching’s popularity, but low salaries are also a major issue.

The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District is seeking to address that concern to some degree with a measure on the November ballot, 3B, that seeks a mill-levy override. Seventy-eight percent of the money raised would go to improve teacher salaries in the district, 15 percent would go to technology such as new computers, and 7 percent would be earmarked for improving the district’s aging bus fleet.

The average teacher salary in Colorado is about $36,000, but in rural corners of the state, that average is lower. At a recent workshop of the Cortez City Council, Southwest Open teacher Matt Keefauver said the average teacher salary in districts such as Mancos and Dolores is $33,000, while the average in Cortez is $29,000.

Teacher salaries have shrunk by 7.7 percent in Colorado in the past 10 years, according to the National Education Association, when adjusted for inflation.

Keefauver told the board higher teacher salaries are instrumental in recruiting and retaining good, dedicated educators. Money from the mill-levy override would enable Cortez to move the median salary upward and make it more competitive in hiring teachers, he said.

He added that there is a certain irony in the fact that while Colorado’s current economic boom is largely driven by high-tech firms, the state ranks near the bottom – 48th – in per-pupil spending, which includes items such as technology in the classroom.

Re-1 human resources director Dan Porter discussed concerns about the school buses currently used by the district.

He said the federal Department of Transportation recommends buses be replaced after 300,000 miles or 15 years. However, more than half of Re-1’s 20 buses have more miles and/or are older than those recommendations. Most, in fact, have manual transmissions. The override would raise property taxes about $36 per year per $100,000 of home value. For commercial properties, the increase would be about $143 per $100,000 of value annually.

Keefauver said 120 districts statewide have mill-levy overrides already, but Re-1 is one of 58 that do not.

The override’s supporters have a Facebook page called “For Our Kids’ Future.” at https://www.facebook. com/YesOn3B/

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