OURAY – At a candidates forum in Ouray earlier this week, three out of four candidates running for three open seats on the Ouray School Board expressed concern about the potential impacts that Amendment 66 could have on the Ouray School District.
Amendment 66 is a ballot question in Colorado’s upcoming Coordinated Election that seeks to bring in almost $1 billion more funds for public education through a statewide income tax hike, while changing funding formulas for the way the money is dispersed to individual school districts.
Candidates Ellen Kersen, Jennifer Fedel and incumbent Don Mort (who did not attend the forum, but had prepared a statement) all expressed concern that the proposed amendment could result in a decrease in per-pupil funding in Ouray, while diverting Ouray taxpayers’ money away from the Ouray School District to benefit larger, lower-achieving urban school districts.
“This bill does not favor a school with demographics like Ouray,” Fedel said. “I am all about the welfare of Ouray Public School. That’s why I’m running. And I question tax increases of eight percent and above, depending on what your income is, that will not necessarily benefit our little school and prove onerous to our fellow neighbors and citizens.
Kersen expressed similar concerns, stating, “I would vote no.”
Mort, as an incumbent, was careful to articulate that the current Ouray School Board has taken an “officially neutral” stand on the amendment, neither supporting or opposing it. “It’s not clear that the school district voters/taxpayers, would benefit from the current formula, possibly not getting a return from the state for the tax dollars we send them,” he said.
School Board candidate Jane Ross, however, took a stand in favor of the proposed amendment. “We would lose approximately $79 per student, and the bill would require $133 per family per year in increased taxes,” she acknowledged. However, she emphasized that it was important to look at the big picture of what the bill is trying to achieve, and stated her belief that many of the bill’s perceived flaws would be worked out over time. The Colorado Association of School Boards “does endorse it,” she said. “I am not sure how you could not be for a law [whose purpose is] building a world-class educational system for our state.”
The forum, sponsored by Women in Support of Education, took place at the Ouray School on Tuesday evening, Oct. 8, and offered Ouray School Board and Ouray City Council candidates a chance to introduce themselves and answer written questions from the audience on a variety of issues.
Mort, a retired social studies teacher elected to the Ouray School Board four years ago and now seeking a second term, was not able to attend Tuesday’s forum. His wife Jill read a statement he had prepared, emphasizing the value of his years of experience on the school board, and as a teacher for three decades before that.
Ross, a Ouray School Board veteran with 10 years of previous experience under her belt, recently retired from a career in mental health work. She would now like a chance to serve on the school board again. “I have climbed the steep learning curve of being on the school board, but there is always more to learn,” said Kersen, who has a master’s degree in social work and has been employed as a substitute teacher at Ouray School for over a year. She is also a Young Life Christian youth group mentor, and became interested running for the Ouray School Board after serving on the District Accountability Committee. “I would like to be a part of the team that affects the policy that affects the way the students learn, teachers teach and the administration runs the school effectively,” she said.
Fedel is a nurse at Montrose Memorial Hospital. Her husband Mike is the current president of the Ouray School Board, and chair of the Ouray Board of County Commissioners.
Fedel and Kersen both have school-aged children who are enrolled at Ouray School.
To a person, the candidates praised the quality of education that students are receiving at the Ouray School, and none of them indicated that they would attempt to push through any major changes.
“I see there are challenges, rather than changes” that need to be made, Fedel said. “Operating within budget constraints, we need to continue to maintain a safe and secure school environment.” Fedel went on to emphasize the importance of having a proactive safety committee, continued maintenance of facilities and ongoing policy review.
Kersen pronounced herself “eager to work with a team, even if we disagree agreeably. I would like to see an improvement in the consistency of policy implementation throughout the school, and improve the school-community relationship. We are doing a lot with the school, but it doesn’t seem we are a big part of the community.”
“The ongoing day-to-day process of a school is the most important part,” Ross said. “Having a grand idea and pursuing it.”
ELECTION SEASON IN OURAY COUNTY
Odd-year elections are referred to as coordinated elections, and feature local races, and local and state measures.
Ouray County Clerk Michelle Nauer’s office will mail out 3,500 ballots next week for Ouray County’s 2013 Coordinated Election – one ballot for each active registered voter in the county.
What’s on the ballot?
Four different ballot styles have been prepared, reflecting the various school board and council elections happening in the county and its municipalities.
All four ballot styles present two statewide questions, Amendment 66 and Proposition AA (pertaining to public education funding, and taxing of recreational marijuana sales, respectively), as well as the countywide sales tax question, Ballot Issue 1A.
Each of the ballot styles also presents its own unique slate of school board candidates pertaining to the various school districts within Ouray County. The City of Ouray ballot additionally presents choices for mayor and city council.
“Your address determines which ballot style you will get,” Nauer said.
How and when to vote
Residents can fill out their ballots at leisure in their own homes and either mail or bring them back to the courthouse. Ballots must be received at the Ouray County Courthouse no later than 7 p.m. Nov. 5. Postmarks will not count.
In-person voting at the Ouray County Courthouse will also be available during the week leading up to the election. “If you didn’t get a ballot by mail, you can come in and vote,” Nauer said.
Blue books presenting information about the state and county ballot questions have been mailed to all county residents and are also available at the courthouse.
Nauer encourages residents to verify that their voter registration record is up-to-date by checking the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, govotecolorado.com.
For more information, call Nauer at the Ouray County Courthouse at 970/325-4961.
Important dates to remember:
All registered voters in Ouray County will receive ballots by mail, be sent out starting Tuesday, Oct. 15.
If your Coordinated Election ballot does not arrive by Monday, Oct. 28, call the Ouray County Clerk and Recorder’s office at 970/325-4961. This is also the last day to submit a change of address online at govotecolorado.com for the 2013 coordinated election. After this date, you can change your address in person at your county's election office or a voter service and polling center through election day.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.