TMJ Opinion: Woodland Park Council and RE-2 School Board Kiss and Make Up

Battle Over Sales Tax Ends For Now; Blue Versus Red Local Fight Gets Ugly

Trevor Phipps

Ever since a slate of “conservative” school board directors were elected over two years ago, the entire county has been engulfed in turmoil and controversy.

The county-wide feud seems to reflect the blue versus red national battle with everyone in the county seeming to pick one side or the other, and passionately fighting for control over how schools operate.

In fact, the Woodland Park school board clash has culminated with reports of violence, vandalism and criminal charges; and it has received attention from national news organizations more than once. The two-year long war seemed to come to an end after the election last November (which caused neighbors to fist fight each other over campaign signs).

But, just when the small group of normal people in the area who have stood by and watched as bystanders thought the chaos had ended, the quarrel eked its way into the Woodland Park City Council meetings. And the typical red vs. blue sentiments that cause the division are also starting to show their heads during the next city council election, slated for April 2.

The latest drama has to do with the fact that the city council started asking about the sales tax increase that was granted by voters in 2016 and wanted the school board to come together at a joint meeting. But according to council members, the school board “stonewalled” the council and ignored requests to have a joint work session.

That’s when the anvil came out. The city then passed an ordinance to eliminate the sales tax as a rather unorthodox way to grasp the attention of the school board, and it worked.

However, after the school board agreed to a meeting, folks on the other side of the aisle argued that the school board never did try to avoid a meeting and that the council made that part up as a part of their evil plan to destroy local children’s future and strip away the sales tax increase. E-mails that came out via a CORA request that was given to TMJ prove that the school board was intending to have a meeting with city council and that council members were given a breakdown of what the sales tax dollars were being spent on over a year ago.

During the long-awaited joint work session between the council and the school board, things did start to get heated about who did or said what over the past several months before the conversation was squashed by the mayor. Once the tension calmed down a little, elected officials in both government bodies decided to move forward and “let bygones be bygones.”

The overall sentiment of the council was to keep the sales tax increase for the schools but have annual meetings where the public (not just council members) were given full transparency as far as what the sales tax dollars were being spent on. The school board agreed to have regular meetings, with the first one slated for this summer.


Personally, I think the best decision made at the outset of the meeting was move to not permit public comment during the work session. This is often quite common for government work sessions, which are just that, work sessions. The last thing I wanted to sit through was another complaint-driven session, with half of the speakers going off on the “mean school board” people and the other half pointing their fingers at the “crazy liberal protesters.”

But I think I would be stupid if I thought the dilemma was going to stop there. In fact, I bet the school board drama continues to show its ugly face during the city council election. It will also resurface during other elections, and at any time those against the current board (or those who support it) have a chance to publicly jump up on their soap box.

The funny part to me is that when it comes to the debate on whether or not the sales tax for the schools should stay in place, the views are opposite from what you typically see in a red vs. blue debate. Usually those on the right fight for smaller government and less taxes, and those on the left choose to raise taxes and grow the government so it can provide more services to a community.

But in Teller County, this hasn’t been the case. The conservative school board supporters have been swearing by the sales tax increase, saying that the district needs it and emphasizing the fact it was passed by voters. And the ones more on the left who are against the board, are fighting for more transparency and even the removal of the tax increase.

To me, this fact shows how all across the country people tend to follow party lines without really thinking outside the box. Instead of really thinking about what side of a debate would best benefit a person’s individual values, they tend to follow whoever claims the same political affiliation as them.

The bottom line is, Woodland Park has one of the highest sales tax rates in the state and the citizens (even those who don’t have kids) that live within the Woodland Park RE-2 District boundaries are forced to pay twice for the schools through both property and sales taxes. There are not very many places where this is the case.

Voters approved the tax when the situation was different. Do they still need the tax now? Is enrollment up or down (school officials have now said both)? Is the money going towards what the voters wanted it to go towards?

These are all questions that will continue to come up in the next few months during the city election and during future council and school board meetings Stay tuned.