Multiple school district tax measures on November ballot aim to fund teacher salaries

Colorado school districts are seeking voter approval for tax measures to fund salary increases for teachers and staff. Districts are facing budget challenges due to factors like declining enrollment and the end of federal COVID-relief funding. Some districts are also struggling to recruit and retain enough teachers.

Alan Kaylor, the superintendent of the Weld Re-8 school district, reported that his district has 18 vacant positions out of approximately 210 certified teachers this year. This represents an increase in vacancies compared to previous years, and the shortage is observed across various subjects.

School districts in the metro area have been raising salaries to attract and retain teachers. For example, the Westminster school district raised the starting pay to $61,000 this year. According to the Colorado Education Association, 30 unions have secured salary increases of 8% or higher. However, some districts, including Aurora and Sheridan, have faced challenges in negotiating raises.

Weld Re-8 is seeking voter approval for a $4 million mill levy override and a $70 million bond request. These measures would not immediately increase property taxes for homeowners. The bond would fund building upgrades, while the mill levy override would raise the starting salary for teachers from $45,000 to $52,000.

Kaylor highlighted the competition faced by Weld Re-8, which is considered a rural district but shares borders with larger urban districts such as St. Vrain Valley School District. The starting salary for teachers in St. Vrain is $56,000, and the cost of housing in Weld Re-8’s community is comparable to metro areas. The affordability gap and limited availability of multi-family housing make it difficult for Weld Re-8 to attract teachers.

While Weld Re-8 has seen enrollment growth, it still faces budget challenges related to the end of COVID relief funding. The district used the relief funds for hiring support positions, such as instructional coaches. However, the availability of funding for these positions in the future is uncertain. Additionally, renewing licenses for online programs purchased during the pandemic and funding the district’s online program for approximately 50 students are potential budget concerns.

In Englewood, another small district seeking a $4 million mill levy override, reserves have been depleted to increase teacher salaries over the past few years. Englewood has experienced an enrollment decline of over 11% in the last five years. If the measure is approved, teachers would receive a 5% increase, and classified staff would receive a minimum increase of 7.5%, effective from January 1. The tax request would not raise property taxes for homeowners, as it would simultaneously lower taxes associated with a previously approved bond.

Douglas County is making a second attempt to pass a mill levy tax measure for teacher raises with the $66 million mill levy override. Last year, the measure narrowly missed approval by less than 1% of the vote. Superintendent Erin Kane noted that average teacher salaries in Douglas County are $19,000 lower than in neighboring districts. The salary gap has led to increased teacher vacancies at the start of the school year, resulting in challenges like combining classrooms and larger class sizes. Kane emphasizes the urgency of the measure, highlighting that current starting salaries make it difficult for teachers to afford living in Douglas County.

Kane also acknowledges the challenge of educating voters about Colorado school funding. Local property tax increases may not directly benefit schools because they are first used to fill the state funding gap. Colorado follows a formula that determines per-student funding, with local taxes and state funds balancing the equation. Additional money beyond the formula’s recommendation is only possible through voter-approved local tax measures. In Douglas County, Kane highlights the $2,000 per student funding gap compared to neighboring districts due to their local tax measures, making it challenging to offer competitive salaries.

Overall, the situation is described as a crisis, with urgent measures needed to address teacher shortages and compete with neighboring districts in terms of salaries.