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School bond issue defeated

In an election largely framed by the economy, a majority of Archuleta County voters rejected a bond proposal that would have raised $49 million to fund the construction of new schools.

Seventy-four percent of the county residents voting on ballot initiative 3B voted “no” on the proposal (2,697 votes) while 26 percent of voters (944 votes) voted in favor of the proposal.

County voters also rejected a statewide initiative that would have returned sales and income taxes to 1999 levels in order to increase funding to public education in the state. In the county, voters rejected Proposition 103 by a 73-to-27 percent majority (2,832 opposed, 1,026 in favor). As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, the measure failed 64 percent to 36 percent statewide (with 83 percent of precincts reporting).

In another matter regarding schools, incumbent school board director Greg Schick was retained to serve on the Archuleta School District 50 Joint board by a 58-percent majority (1,782 votes), defeating his opponent Bill Hudson (1,291 votes). Directors Joanne Irons and Ken Fox ran unopposed and were also retained to serve the board (2,480 and 2,345 votes, respectively).

Ballot language for initiative 3B was approved by the school board in late August. The proposal would have raised $49 million through a tax increase on residential and commercial properties.

Last December, the board approved the purchase of 53 acres of land located to the west of the high school. During the following months, the board discussed options for that land, specifically the placement of K-8 facilities on the land that would essentially consolidate all district schools in a location on the southern end of Pagosa Springs.

In discussions leading up to the decision to put the measure on the ballot, the board expressed the need for new facilities, citing (among many issues) Colorado Department of Education (CDE) assessments showing that facilities (elementary, intermediate and junior high schools) had outlived their useful life and that costs for maintaining those buildings outweighed the expense of new construction. The location of those schools (adjacent to U.S.160) was also cited as a safety concern for students.

However, many opponents of 3B expressed doubts regarding the district’s interpretation of the CDE assessments and questioned the wisdom of raising taxes in the current economy.

Given the overall results on Tuesday, it seems opponents’ latter argument was primary in the minds of voters.

Outspoken 3B opponent Jim Huffman said, “I’m happy that the voters said ‘no.’ I think the voters, both statewide and locally said, ‘no’ to raising taxes. Eventually, I hope the government gets the message.”

District superintendent Mark DeVoti stated that, while not pleased with Tuesday’s result, he was nonetheless happy how the campaign went.

“I feel that we conducted ourselves well,” DeVoti said, referring to an election that, for some, was contentious and unseemly.

“Although we can say, ‘It’s not if you win or lose but how you play the game,’ and we played well, it was really the kids that lost in this,” DeVoti added.

“Now, we’ve got a year to address this and really have community engagement and have as many discussions as we can,” DeVoti said, making it clear that the issue of a bond was not permanently settled.

Regarding the vote to retain Schick on the school board, DeVoti said he was happy with the result.

“He’s an honorable man that loves his community and wants what’s best for education,” DeVoti said. “I’m glad that the majority of the voters said that, knowing that he wants what’s best for the kids.”

With opponents from both liberal and conservative camps, Proposition 103 appeared to stand little chance of meeting the approval of Colorado voters, especially during a sustained economic downturn.

Proposition 103 would have restored the sales and income tax rates that were in effect in 1999, returning income tax rates from 4.63 to 5 percent and sales taxes from 2.9 to 3 percent.

Conservatives largely opposed the measure on ideological grounds, adverse to any tax hikes at local, state or national levels.

On the other hand, liberals stated that the measure would not go far enough towards funding schools (calling the initiative a “Band-aid” or stopgap measure), while other objections stated that a sales tax hike is regressive and the burden is unfairly placed on the shoulders of the working poor and unemployed in Colorado.

In the end, it appeared that Archuleta County voters took the conservative route, on taxes and in retaining a known member of the school board.

That appearance will be tested again next year, when voters face a general election and, according to DeVoti, possibly another look at a bond for new schools.

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