Struggling De Beque district to seek tax hike again for school

Faced with declining revenue and the prospect of closing the high school if enrollment doesn’t rebound, De Beque School District 49-JT will ask property owners again this fall for permission to boost their property taxes so that more dollars can be funneled into the struggling district.

The board of education recently agreed informally to seek a mill-levy override similar to the one that failed in November and keep the high school portion of De Beque’s K-12 school open for the remainder of this year and for the 2011–12 school year.

The district’s bottom line has suffered as a result of the struggling economy and the contraction of the drilling industry. Enrollment this year is 108 students, down from 130 last year and 141 in 2008–09, according to Superintendent Marty Lucas. Enrollment in grades 9–12 dropped from 36 last year to 23 this year.

District officials sliced $240,000 from this year’s budget, and they are poised to cut a similar amount next year after a tax measure failed by a single vote in November. The property tax hike, which would have resulted in the owner of a house valued at $100,000 paying $16.64 a year in tax to the district, would have pumped $485,000 into the district’s coffers.

Lucas said he anticipates the district asking for a similar tax increase this year, although he said the school board has yet to decide that issue.

This year’s budget stands at $1.8 million, and Lucas said he expects to spend $75,000 from the district’s $1.2 million fund balance to help carry the district through the remainder of this school year.

Lucas said the cash infusion from a mill-levy override would enable the school to avoid further reducing its 30-person staff and possibly add an employee or two.

“We, like everybody, froze salaries,” he said. “But we can only do that for so long before we become uncompetitive with other districts.”

Lucas said the impacts of losing a portion of the school’s student body would be far-reaching.

“I think even losing part of the school will impact not only the school but the entire community,” Lucas said. “It would be more difficult to draw families here. We may lose families from the community.”


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