WP City Council: We’re at “Witt’s End” with Superintendent Antics

School District Tax May Get Axed; Leaders Lash Out at Head RE-2 Boss

Trevor Phipps


It was a case of calm before the storm during a recent Woodland Park City Council meeting.

The storm, in in this case, could result in the removal of a 1.09 percent sales tax increase that was approved by Woodland Park voters in 2016, originally aimed at benefitting the RE-2 School District with capital improvements and teacher salaries. A work session is scheduled for Wednesday (May 29) to further discuss this controversial tax topic.

Ultimately, a final verdict won’t occur until July.

This issue, which has hit the radar for weeks, ignited sparks during the May 16 council session, with an agenda that appeared relatively uneventful.  That scenario drastically changed when the tax subject arose, a topic that generated a bombardment of public comment.

The ongoing controversy surrounding the Woodland Park School board that has received nationwide attention, however, started over two years ago when a new conservative slate of board members was elected. But after the same group of conservatives won the school board election last November by a very tight margin, the controversial battle has now moved to city council. Several newly-elected WP leaders aren’t happy with the direction taken by the RE-2 administration and leadership, and believe this levy, which was only approved by WP voters and not by the district as a whole, should end immediately.


In fact, several members of the newly elected city council railed the Woodland Park School Board President Mick Bates and Superintendent Ken Witt continuously when it came time for the council to ask questions at its recent meeting.  Many of policies the  school district has pursued, such as closing Gateway Elementary School and implementing the American Birthright Standards were major subjects of the council member rants.


The school district’s presentation started with the school board president Bates and Superintendent Witt explaining what the voter-approved tax increase was being used for and how much the district relies on those funds to operate the school district. Bates presented a pie chart that showed that the city sales tax increase accounts for about 11 percent of the total revenue generated by the school district.


Superintendent Witt produced a pie chart that broke down where the sales tax monies were being spent across six categories: educator salaries and benefits, C.O.P. lease payments, facilities and maintenance, safety and security, technology and innovative programming and other. Just over 70 percent of the sales tax funds go towards educator salaries and benefits.


However, to put it lightly, the city council was not impressed by the school district’s presentation, not even a little bit. Once Witt finished his presentation the fighting bells rang, and the council members started off throwing fierce verbal punches.


Why Should We Give You This Money?

The questions started off calmly, but then tensions elevated when it came time for Councilwoman Teri Baldwin to ask questions. Baldwin started off by saying she would try to be gracious, but she wasn’t satisfied with the district’s pie charts.


She asked about the school district taking on the debt of Merit Academy. Baldwin claimed that people had taken out personal loans to start the school and that the loans were being paid back by taxpayers. Witt denied this claim and said that he didn’t know anything about loans for Merit Academy being paid back.


Councilman Jeffrey Geer then started off a hefty rant with reminding the council that he was the only one on the dais that has a child in the school district and that he (and other councilmembers) have had residents contact them wanting them to eliminate the sales tax increase. “I have watched my kid’s quality of education decline since you have taken over as superintendent,” Geer said.

“As I look at this completely inadequate and ridiculous attempt to explain how you are spending the sales tax, I’m just going to ask you directly: Why should we continue to give you this money? Why should the community of Woodland Park continue to fund this with the tremendous amount of discomfort and distaste in your specific behavior and the behavior of the existing board?”


Witt then stepped down from the podium to let the school board president respond.

“I believe that there are a number of people in the community that are attempting to use these monies to punish the board,” Bates said. “And I want to be very clear, the only people that will be punished by this being taken away is our children. The children and to some degree the teachers will be the ones impacted by this whether this board is here for another 10 years or until the next election.”


Bates said that the district still needs the money like they did when the voters approved the sales tax increase nearly eight years ago. He said that there are also several repairs to the buildings that need to be made that the sales tax increase will be used to fund.


A Need for More Community Input

The debate continued during the open public comment section with several speaking to address the issue. Some said that due to the recent actions of the school board, the sales tax increase should be eliminated immediately. Others were upset that the council wanted to take the tax away from the children.


The issue came up once again at the end of the meeting during the council reports.  Geer used part of his report to ask the council to move the ordinance to repeal the school sales tax to the next meeting instead of putting off until July, like the council had previously voted to do.


However, most of the councilmembers said that they wanted to get more input from the community and get more information from the district before making a decision. Mayor Kellie Case said that since the sales tax increase was approved by voters, it should be the voters who choose to remove it even though the city council legally does have the ability to end the sales tax increase.


In the end, the council decided to hold a work session on May 29 to discuss what information they needed from the school district before they were ready to make a final decision about the sales tax increase. The ordinance to remove the tax will stay tabled until the school district gives their previously planned presentation to the council in July.