Pueblo high schools are known for their storied sports rivalries. Generations of fans pack Dutch Clark Stadium for the annual Bell Game and Cannon Game football rivalries. But those traditions could be in danger as School District 60 struggles to adapt to a new financial reality.
“We’re a town that’s as we all know, very invested in our high schools, we have great traditions, great programs, and wonderful and amazing things are going on in our high schools,” said school board president Barb Clementi.
A District-wide Master Plan presented to the school board two weeks ago reveals that declining enrollment and aging facilities are the two biggest financial challenges facing the district. Some of the options proposed in the report are closing and consolidating schools in order to make ends meet. High schools and middle schools, in particular, are among the most under-utilized buildings operating at nearly half their capacity.
Meanwhile, the report highlights some $218 million worth of facilities needs that are deemed “mission critical.” These repairs are bad enough that they, “may directly affect a school’s ability to remain open or deliver their educational curriculum.”
“It’s important for our community to learn with the board the real state of our buildings, of our facilities,” Clementi said.
The full price tag for the backlog of facility needs surpasses $784 million. So, the report authors also suggest constructing new schools to replace deficient facilities.
Clementi said these problems have been building for a long time. The primary sources of local funds for schools are property taxes. Residential property rates have routinely adjusted downward thanks to the combination of formulas created by the Gallagher Amendment and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) Amendment.
Meanwhile, the Negative Factor in education funding by state lawmakers left a $150 million hole in the district’s budget over the course of a decade.
Amendment 73 would have changed Gallagher by setting a floor for how low property tax rates can adjust downward. It would have also levied a new tiered income tax on individuals earning more than $150,000 per year. The estimated $1.6 billion in new revenue for schools would have meant about $26 million a year for D-60. The mill levy override hoped to generate another $6 million a year.
Together, the two tax issues may have put off the district’s pain a little longer, but neither won support at the ballot box. In fact, Pueblo voters rejected Amendment 73 by a roughly 2-to-one margin.
District spokesman Dalton Sprouse said in a statement that administrators are disappointed by the failure of the mill levy override.
“The primary goal of the MLO was to provide our staff with additional salary increases and ensure our students a safe, healthy learning environment,” he said. “As a district, we will continue to build upon the many successes we have accomplished.”
The trend of declining enrollment shows no signs of slowing. The total number of students in D-60 has dropped by more than 8 percent in the past 5 years. It’s projected to fall another 8 percent by the 2024-2025 school year.
A series of town-hall meetings have been scheduled for late November and December to inform parents and the community about the ongoing needs facing the district.
That schedule is as follows:
• November 28 at Centennial High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
• November 29 at Central High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
• December 18 at East High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
• December 19 South High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
NOTE: Neither Barb Clementi nor district spokesman Dalton Sprouse directly or indirectly stated that a high school closure is planned. Closing and consolidating are listed among the options that the district may consider as it gathers public feedback through the town-hall meetings. An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that closings were recommended.