The Thompson School District in Loveland, Colorado will ask voters to give up an additional estimated $12.8 million annually for the next 12 years to fund schools. In August the school board voted unanimously to put the Mill Levy Override on the November 2011 ballot. In a press release the board stated:
The district is seeking $12.8 million for operating costs from residents living within the Thompson School District. The mill is aimed at restoring the loss of teachers and academic programs and to recover funds lost due to state budget cuts, which amounted to more than $18.7 million in the past three years.
The month prior, the district administration sent out an official “Public Opinion Survey.” Like the board press release, the survey suggests that the MLO would be $12.8 million. In an attempt to win voters’ sympathy, the district claimed that it had “lost $18.5 million in revenue over the last three years as a result of state funding cuts.”
These statements might lead some voters to believe that Colorado’s 16th largest district is seeking a mere $12.8 million to replace more than $18 million in state cuts, and the money will be earmarked for teachers and academic programs. But that wouldn’t be accurate, and the ballot language proves it:
SHALL THOMPSON SCHOOL DISTRICT R2-J’S TAXES BE INCREASED $12.8 MILLION ANNUALLY [emphasis mine] (OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS THE BOARD OF EDUCATION MAY ANNUALLY DETERMINE) TO BE DEPOSITED IN THE GENERAL FUND OF THE DISTRICT FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES TO BE APPROVED BY THE BOARD OF EDUCATION WHICH SHALL INCLUDE BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO [emphasis mine]:
A. RESTORING AND SUPPORTING ACADEMIC PROGRAMS, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MA THEMATICS;
B. RESTORING TEACHER AND CLASSROOM SUPPORT POSITIONS LOST DUE TO REDUCTIONS IN STATE FUNDING
C. RESTORING TEACHER AND CLASSROOM SUPPORT POSITIONS LOST DUE TO REDUCTIONS IN STATE FUNDING
D. MAINTAINING REASONABLE CLASS SIZES; ANDPROVIDING EQUAL ACCESS TO CLASSROOM INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY DISTRICT-WIDE.
The ballot language clearly says the tax increase is annual and could be up to $12.8 million per year for 12 years for a possible total of $153.6 million in additional taxpayer funds. It also says funding may go to teacher restoration and academic programs, but ultimately the money goes into the general fund to be used as the school board directs.
As to the “funds lost due to state budget cuts, which amounted to more than $18.7 million in the past three years,” this is particularly problematic because it isn’t really a state revenue cut but rather a calculation on “our lost revenues against the original 9/10 School Finance Act (SFA) revenue projections per statute for Thompson,” explained Wes Fothergill, Director Communication and Community Resources. That’s analogous to my boss telling me he might have money to give me a big raise. But when his business goes South and he doesn’t have the money, I claim I suffered a “cut” in my income even though I never got a raise in the first place.
Furthermore, the reality is that Thompson has not experienced a reduction in state funding or federal funding over the last three years. As the chart below details, over the last three years the Thompson School District’s revenue is up overall as is per pupil spending:
|Local $$ per pupil||4,815||4,708||4,680|
|Local percentage of total||48.9||47.7||46.1|
|State $$ per pupil||4,452||4,598||4,809|
|State percentage of total||45.2||46.6||47.4|
|Federal $$ per pupil||576||555||663|
|Federal percentage of total||5.8||5.6||6.5|
|Total per pupil||9,843||9,862||10,155|
*Source: Colorado Department of Education (CDE)
The Public Opinion Survey also suggests that the district has cut spending by reducing staff:
The 86 positions that the school district has cut the past three years represent an 11 percent reduction of the administrative/professional/technical staff, a 6.2 percent reduction of the classified/support staff and a 4 percent reduction of the licensed teaching professionals.
Using information from the CDE, the chart below makes the district’s insinuation seem a bit fantastic.
|%||Salaries, Benefits by Job Classification||7.1||66.6||2.6||7.7||6.9||9.1||100.0|
|%||Salaries, Benefits by Job Classification||7.5||65.4||2.9||8.4||6.8||9.0||100.0|
While the district may have eliminated positions, spending on salaries and benefits went up nearly $6 million from 2009 to 2010. Perhaps this is because the district let go of all first year teachers and second year middle school and high school teachers regardless of effectiveness in teaching students while keeping teachers with more seniority — again regardless of effectiveness.
At the same time, top administrators continue to be well-paid. Superintendent Ron Cabrera makes more than $250,000 in total compensation including $200,000 annual salary, nearly $16,000 in individual and family dental/health insurance, $1,200 cell phone allowance and $30,401 in PERA contributions. Deputy Superintendent Judy Skupa makes over $170,000 in total compensation. To put those numbers into perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Larimer County’s per capita income is $29,188.
All of this adds up to a district that is not being completely forthright with voters and taxpayers. Not a good start to building trust with voters from whom the district wants more money.