Wild Political Times on the Mountain!

Long-awaited WP Council/School Board Showdown Looming

Trevor Phipps

For the last two years, controversy has riddled the Woodland Park School District ever since a new slate of “Conservative” school board members were elected.

And then in the past few months, the Woodland Park City Council stepped into the middle of this growing controversy by questioning the spending of a voter-approved sales tax increase, collected by the city for the school district.

No shortage of political fireworks

The issue, which has been aired extensively in the last few months, sparking much tension between the city of Woodland Park and the RE-2 School District, could reach a conclusion this week as the two governmental bodies have agreed to a mini, Pow Wow session for this Thursday (Feb. 29).  The meeting will be held at the city council chambers and is expected to get heated on both sides of the aisle. The only subject slated for discussion is the issue surrounding the school district’s use of extra tax monies previously approved by the voters of Woodland Park.

The sales tax increase has stirred debate and generated much public interest during recent council meetings. Some council members contend that the school district has lacked transparency by not directly reporting on what the sales tax increase, approved by voters in 2016, is being spent on.

Others, however, believe that the city council should not be stepping into the business of the school district. Many believe that the school district needs those funds, and that the council should not discuss ending the sales tax increase since it was approved by voters.

The sales tax increase took the main stage for both of the council meetings in February. Council members said that they wanted a resolution to end the sales tax increase, if the school board was not willing to have a joint work session to discuss concerns about how the tax money is being spent.

The school board then agreed to have a joint work session.

During a recent meeting, the council voted to put an ordinance on initial posting that would eliminate the sales tax increase given to the school district. Council members Frank Connors and Robert Zuluaga made a motion to table the ordinance until after the council had met with the school board, but this plan was voted down 5-2.


The majority members of the elected panel felt that the city needed to “hold the school board to the fire” to ensure that they got the transparency needed for the community. The council agreed that if they were satisfied with the information given to them at the work session, then they could vote unanimously to not end the sales tax increase.


“I think what forced the meeting to happen, and I’m so glad it did, was the fact that we were discussing that without transparency and accountability it was very possible that this body could repeal the sales tax,” Harvey explained. “I don’t want to lose that as leverage for our community.”


But Councilman Robert Zuluaga didn’t like how the council decided to put an ordinance on the agenda to eliminate the sales tax before having the discussion with the school board. “To take this approach is disrespectful to the school board because the council is leading with a threat,” Zuluaga said. “That’s not signaling that we are willing to work together, in my opinion. To put that out there as a sword before we even meet is foolishness.”


However, Mayor Hilary LaBarre quickly fought back and disagreed that the council was “threatening” the school board. “I don’t really appreciate the language that we are threatening the school board,” the mayor replied. “We have asked since last May to have a meeting and it took putting the ordinance on the agenda to get them to respond. I don’t think there is any threat, I have no intent on taking away anything. But when this council invites another professional body to an open public meeting, they should at least give a response. And they should technically show up willingly and openly.”

A bombardment of public comment

During the public comment section of a recent council meeting, nearly a dozen residents spoke on this topic. Several of the speakers were former school board members, staff and a superintendent that gave some background on why the sales tax increase was proposed ,and the process that went forth to get it put on the ballot and passed.


Most of the speakers who took the podium during the meeting agreed that the sales tax increase was passed for a good reason. At the time, the district was in dire conditions and the money was going towards paying a bond that would allow for a much-needed renovation of the middle school building.


Many of the residents who spoke agreed that the school district still needed the extra tax revenue. But many speakers questionee how the money is being spent.


Concerns were raised about funds going towards supporting the Merit Academy charter school, instead of designated schools in the RE-2 district. Others also questioned the contract extension and salary of Superintendent Ken Witt, who also holds another full-time job.


In the end, most agreed that there needs to be more transparency on how the sales tax money is being spent.

Thursday’s session marks the first time the two entities have conducted a joint meeting. The sales tax question is the only issue slated for discussion.