School board may sue state on funding

Superintendent's talks with legislators go nowhere

The Mancos school board considered becoming a main plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state Monday, after legislative budget cuts left the district running a $133,000 deficit this year.

Both the Superintendent Brian Hanson and School Board President Monty Guiles met with state legislators last week, who seemed indifferent to their budget problems, Guiles said during the meeting.

After the meetings, that were part of the Colorado Association of School Boards winter conference, Hanson decided to ask his board to sign on to the lawsuit.

"All I hear from elected officials is we would love to do something about it but our hands are tied," he said.

The state has decreased funding for education every year since 2009. Over the last three school years, the Mancos school district has lost $1.6 million to the negative factor.

Colorado Rural Schools Caucus plans to argue the reductions are unconstitutional. Voters passed an amendment to the state constitution in 2000 that required funding to increase each year. Amendment 23 stated funding must increase by the inflation rate plus 1 percent for 10 years. After 2010, funding was meant to increase with inflation.

Hanson said the district should not have to pay to be a lead plaintiff. The school board will make a decision next week in a special session because the lawsuit is scheduled to be filed before their next regular meeting on March 17.

Even if the school district doesn't sign on as a lead plaintiff, it will still be part of the lawsuit because it is part of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus.

It is possible that the lawsuit would never be heard. Just the aspect of a lawsuit might force state legislators to increase school funding because it is an election year, Guiles said.

"No one wants to be illustrated as anti-education," he said.

Hanson was one of 168 superintendents who signed a letter date Feb. 10 urging the state lawmakers to increase funding by $275 million more than was proposed this year.

The letter argues citizens in Colorado showed their unwavering support for education during the recession by passing 82 local tax increases to support schools and now the state needs to restore funding.

Mancos voters were among those who passed a local tax increase.

Jim Law, a Mancos resident, worked to pass the mill levy override that went into effect last year.

The levy was supposed to raise $276,000 each year for seven years to increase teacher salaries and support school programs.

But local tax dollars couldn't fill the gap left by the state cuts.

Law wrote a letter to State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, in January about the cuts and what he called the failure of the state lawmakers to keep their promise to voters.

"To use the deceitful method of getting revenue by quietly shortchanging the schools (through rejiggering the formula for inflations + 1 %) is odious," he wrote.

He was also involved in organizing a meeting on Thursday for those in the area interested in fighting for school funding.

Representatives from Children's Voices and Colorado Rural Schools Caucus will present information on how school finance works in the state and how to advocate for change.

The meeting will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Durango School District 9-R boardroom.