Has St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) ever passed a Mill Levy Override (MLO)?
Yes, in November 2008, SVVSD passed its first ever MLO. At that time, among larger school districts along the Front Range between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, only Greeley and St. Vrain had never passed a MLO for local school funding. Since then, the State of Colorado has cut $20 million from the SVVSD budget. Per pupil funding today is lower than it was three years ago after the MLO passed.
What is a Mill Levy Override?
A voter approved Mill Levy Override adds mills to a property tax bill. Mills are the factor applied to assessed property value (not actual or market value), and together they determine total property tax cost. Depending on where you live, property tax collection may be allocated to your county, city/town, your water district and/or your school district, etc. A school district MLO provides additional operating monies exclusively for the school district. These additional funds collected within the District are not sent to Denver to be reallocated among Colorado school districts, funds stay in St. Vrain schools.
Additional voter approved mills for the school district will require residential and commercial property owners to pay an additional tax based on assessed valuation. For example, a $400,000 residential property (actual value) has an assessed value of ~$31,840. Therefore, the additional annual property tax for voter approved 6.27 mills is 31,840 x .00627 = $200. (Note: the percentage of assessed value to actual value is determined by Colorado law and varies for residential and commercial property. Property taxes are applied to ~8% of a residential property’s actual value and ~29% of a commercial property’s actual value.)
As per state law, school districts cannot collect locally (via a MLO) more than 25% of total program funding for that district. SVVSD currently collects 7.32 mills which equates to 9% from the 2008 voter approved MLO. If the 2012 MLO passes, SVVSD will be at 16%. In comparison, the Boulder Valley School District, which is approximately the same size as SVVSD, has maxed out local MLO funding at 25% and their current mill levy override exceeds SVVSD by $40M.
How is a Mill Levy Override different from a bond?
Monies from a MLO are used for operating expenses such as teacher pay, rigorous instructional programs, in-classroom technology and other high-priority operating expenses. MLO funds are not restricted in their use, but generally are not used to pay for major repairs and renovations to existing school buildings, additions to schools or new school buildings.
Bonds provide money for major repairs and renovations to existing school buildings, additions to schools and new school buildings. The State of Colorado does not provide funds for these building projects. Bond dollars cannot be used for operating expenses.
Does a Mill Levy Override impact business owners differently than home owners?
The District is building new schools, why do they need more money?
Current construction and renovation projects within the district are funded by the 2008 voter approved bond issue. These funds have been designated for:
- Repairs and renovation for older schools across the District
- Added instructional space to address overcrowding across the District
- Building a new Frederick High School, now about 20% over capacity
- Building a new elementary in Erie – Red Hawk Elementary
- Enhancements at Skyline High for the District-wide STEM academy
- Improved technology infrastructure for library, computer labs and classes
A MLO is necessary to maintain an operating budget that will allow all schools, new and old, to retain and hire quality teachers, keep class sizes manageable, implement quality programming, and mainstream and maintain current technology resources. If the 2012 MLO passes, SVVSD will also designate funds to early childhood education. Early childhood education is currently unavailable to many children within the district. Studies show that children who start their education earlier, can build their learning skills sooner and are more successful throughout their education career.
Have cost efficiencies been maximized? Why doesn’t the District charge bus transportation fees? Why is the District spending money on new school buses?
During the recent three years of state funding cuts, SVVSD has made efforts to keep the budget cuts away from the classroom as much as possible. Approximately $16.8M in permanent cuts were made to central staff and administration, technology refresh and upgrades are on hold, textbook purchases are on hold, school budgets (excluding salaries) were cut last year by 25%, student/teacher ratios have increased for two years, and $5 million in reserves was required to balance the current budget.
Charging for transportation was considered by the BOE as a cost containment issue during budget discussions. But it was determined that charge for bus services could negatively impact our enrollment numbers and severely increase student absenteeism, therefore increasing District costs for truant officers required to collect absent students and bring them to school, as required by law.
SVVSD did purchase two new wheelchair school buses last year. Buses that are replaced have been in service for 20-25 year and are a student safety issue. School buses are funded from the capital reserve budget. Mechanical issues and historical maintenance records are used to determine which buses are chosen for replacement to maximize operating budgets.
Test scores have been good in our district, why do we need to raise additional funds?
Test scores, graduation rates, school rankings and enrollment have all been upward trending in SVVSD over the last 4 years. Our district is delivering a quality, diversified education to our students all during a recession and state budget crisis. SVVSD leadership has steered our district through lean budget times by cutting central staff and administration (there are 21 administrators that work in the district office to support ~4,000 employees and ~29,000 students) maximizing efficiencies (consolidating K-8 schools) and keeping funding cuts away from the classroom as much as possible.
But our district has been hit with $20 million in state funding cuts over the last three years, or ~10% of its budget. 86% of the school district’s costs are allocated to salaries and benefits for our most important resources – teachers and staff. That leaves very little room to make further cuts without eliminating teachers and pulling more resources away from students. While the state revenue forecast may be improving, projections are that there will be no reinstatement of cuts to education over the next several years.
SVVSD cannot sustain our path of achieving excellence without additional resources. Without a local MLO, SVVSD class sizes will continue to grow, teacher salaries will continue to fall behind, technology integrity will fail, and course options will decrease – potentially causing permanent damage to our education services.
How is the District held accountable for spending voter approved MLO funds?
Oversight is provided by the Board of Education, and the Finance and Audit Committee. The Board consists of elected representatives from across the District and the Finance and Audit Committee consists of financial professionals from the public and private sector. Current members represent IBM, McLane Western, Celestial Seasonings, Boulder County, Edward Jones and Intrado.
Furthermore, the District publishes an annual Report to the Community. Superintendent Don Haddad hosts semi-annual school feeder meeting to provide parents with District updates and disclose how MLO dollars are being applied. Board of Education members attend parent meetings at all schools at least once a year to share updates about MLO funds and other district issues. And there are frequent MLO/Bond updates posted on the district website.
Lastly, SVVSD financial reporting and transparency has been recognized as excellent. In June 2012, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) of the United States and Canada awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting to SVVSD, and the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) awarded a Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting to the District for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011. This was the eighth consecutive year that the District has achieved these prestigious awards.
Is the requested MLO budget creep?
No. SVVSD has lost $20 million in state funding over the last three years while enrollment has increased by 1,800 students or ~7.3%. To compensate for the cuts, the district has made ~$16.8 milion in permanent cuts to administration and central support. SVVSD teacher compensation remains below our neighbors and competitors in Boulder Valley and Thompson Valley and teachers are not being replaced for attrition thereby requiring increases in class sizes at all grade levels. Today, most schools have classrooms with more than 30 students. Last year, all school budgets (excluding salaries) were cut by 25%. This year, $5 milion in reserve funds were used to balance the SVVSD budget.
Will the requested amount for the MLO just get us caught up or will it move us ahead?
In combination with other cost cutting measures, the $14.8 million MLO, would allow the district to recruit and retain qualified teachers and staff, maintain class sizes, maintain instructional technology and rigorous programming, and protect preschool and full day kindergarten programs. District leadership and board members are confident that it will be possible to maintain the investments in new programs made in 2008 with these additional funds.
When will the funds for an MLO be collected?
Funds for the first year will be collected as part of the 2012 property taxes payable in 2013. 97% of the money for this first year will be collected by June 2013. The current initiative does not have a “sunset” clause which means there is no identified end date to the MLO.
If the MLO passes, will it sunset at some point?
No, there is no sunset on the MLO because a significant portion of money is earmarked for compensation. If the State does not resolve structural budget problems, a sunset would create a financial cliff that would require a pay cut at the time of the sunset.
If state does figure out budget, the school board has the option to reduce the local MLO. Passing a mill levy override sets the maximum tax rate not the minimum.
If an MLO passes will we be able to reduce the class size?
If the $14.8 million Mill Levy Override is successful, $4.8 million is reserved for MAINTAINING class sizes. The mill levy will assure that class sizes will not go up in the next few years. The decision to reduce class sizes will depend on the what happens with state funding.
Do Charter Schools receive funds from an MLO?
Yes, charter schools would receive approximately $1.6 million collectively, which is determined by law and based on the percentage of students currently enrolled in charter schools within the district. The actual funding would be based on the October 2012 student count. In future years, only charter schools in operation at the time of the MLO approval would be included in MLO fund allocation to charter schools.
How do we know what portion of an MLO will come to “my” school?
Since the district has lost significant funding, it has become necessary to apply FTE (full time equivalent) staffing cuts to every school. However, there have been variations at primary and secondary levels as determined by the Board of Education. (For example, in the last 2 years secondary class sizes have increased mathematically by two, primary class sizes by one.)
Conversely, additional funds collected via a local MLO will be applied to every school. FTE will be allocated to schools based on enrollment to improve class sizes and/or restore lost programs. It is within the authority of each school principal to decide how the additional resources received from an MLO will be applied in your school.
In addition to FTE resources, MLO funds will be allocated to all schools, depending on need, for technology support, refresh and upgrades.
When will we see the effect of a Mill Levy if it is passed?
If an MLO is passed in November 2012, it will be reflected on the 2012 property taxes payable in 2013. However, MLO funds will be available to schools in January 2013 because the state will provide the District with a no interest loan against the future collection of local property taxes. In fact, all schools in Colorado are funded via no interest state loans until actual property taxes are collected in the spring. Staffing additions, program adjustments and technology improvements may begin in January. But most major changes will happen for the 2013-14 school year. For example, salary adjustments and the addition of most teacher positions will take effect in the fall of 2013.
If the MLO passes, how much does it cost the taxpayer?
The additional mills added to a property owner’s annual tax bill will be 6.27 or less. The board of education will set the mill levy rate in the first year to collect no more than $14.8 million. The estimated monthly tax impact for the requested $14.8 million in MLO funds is $4.16 per $100,000 of a home’s market value. For example, a $400,000 home would pay $200 in additional property taxes per year.
Is there tax relief available for senior citizens if the MLO/Bond passes?
Senior Property Tax Exemption: There is a property tax exemption, called the Homestead Act, now in effect for qualifying senior citizens, surviving spouses of senior citizens who previously qualified, and disabled veterans. Homeowners 65 and older who have been in their primary residence for ten or more years and disabled veterans can apply to their county’s tax assessor for this relief. For those who qualify, 50% of the first $200,000 in actual value of their home is exempt from taxation, up to a maximum of $100,000. More information is available at bouldercounty.org/assessor orco.weld.co.us/Departments/Assessor.
Senior Tax Work-Off Program: If ballot measure 3A passes in November, the St. Vrain Valley School District will be providing a program for senior citizens to work off a portion of their property taxes by volunteering in the district. Qualifying seniors must be at least 60 years of age, and own and live in their non-income producing home within the St. Vrain Valley School District boundary area. Only one person per household may apply. More information is available at yeson3a.com.
How much money is the school district spending on the Yes on 3A campaign?
No public funds have been used for the Yes on 3A campaign. All contributions have been raised from private donors and are managed by the Yes on 3A Campaign Committee.
Can 501(c)3 organizations participate in the MLO campaign?
Please refer to the IRS website to find information about your particular type of organization. While doing your research keep in mind that supporting a non partisan mill levy override is NOT the same as supporting a candidate for public office.
“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
What can I do?
- Educate people, like your neighbors, friends and local businesses
- Realize that 70% of the voters do not have ties to the schools – help these people to understand that the health of our school district greatly affects our community, businesses, local economy, property values and safety.
- Get involved, your time and effort will be needed to move this MLO initiative forward
- Direct people with questions to yeson3a.com or grassrootsstvrain.org
- For facts about the school district stvrain.k12.co.us