Jefferson County Schools

Bond money to repair, upgrade schools

The $535 million bond and $33 million mill levy override will be on the Nov. 8 ballot

Posted 10/17/16

Classrooms at Kendrick Lakes Elementary School in Lakewood are separated by portable partition walls.

The office is in the center of the school, causing visitors to walk through hallways adjacent to classrooms to get there.

The 625-square-foot …

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Jefferson County Schools

Bond money to repair, upgrade schools

The $535 million bond and $33 million mill levy override will be on the Nov. 8 ballot

Posted

Classrooms at Kendrick Lakes Elementary School in Lakewood are separated by portable partition walls.

The office is in the center of the school, causing visitors to walk through hallways adjacent to classrooms to get there.

The 625-square-foot cafeteria houses just five folding tables and a cramped serving line.

The school was designed as an open-plan school when it was built in 1970 with brutalist architecture that’s been described as lacking humanity and energy efficiency.

The school, which serves the Alameda High School articulation area, is one of five schools slated to be replaced if the Jefferson County Board of Education’s bond measure — 3B on the Nov. 8 ballot — passes.

“Acoustically, (the partitions) don’t make a lot of sense,” said Tim Reed, executive director of facilities and construction management for the school district. “There’s a lot of noise transition, which makes it difficult to teach.”

Last week, as Reed walked around the 46-year-old school building — the average age for schools in Jeffco — he pointed out original carpeting, sinks and cabinets; a cluster of temporary classrooms built in the 1980s that have become permanent structures on campus; and the many staircases that prevent the school from being wheelchair accessible.

“I think these kids deserve a better school,” he said.

Jeffco Board of Education is asking residents to approve 3B, a $535 million bond that would provide money for improvements and repairs to schools.

At Patterson Elementary in Lakewood, built in 1964, improvements would include new carpeting, getting rid of portable patricians that separate classrooms, replacing doors and heightening the ceiling, which currently measures at 7 feet, the minimum code requirement.

The plan would be to close the school for a year, routing students to different schools during construction, like what’s happening at Stein Elementary in Lakewood this school year.

“We think this building has potential, even though it also has issues,” Reed said of Patterson.

Of the $535 million, about $233 million will go toward replacing and renovating schools.

“We have accomplished many great things in Jeffco, but our building are beginning to fail,” said 

Karyn Peabody, Golden resident and parent of elementary students.

At Kyffin Elementary, where Peabody’s children attend school, the building has received a facility index rating of poor, slating it for a partial replacement and renovation if the bond dollars pass.

Last school year, the sewage system at the school backed up requiring students to use portable toilets. The school is also one of 91 facilities that tested positive to lead in the drinking water.

“This is a bare minimum,” Peabody said. “Our kids deserve to use a bathroom and drink from any water fountain in their building.”

Bond dollars also include upgrading gyms and playing fields at eight area high schools.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee said these improvements will not only improve space for athletic teams to practice, but also improve safety of student athletes by installing turf fields.

The bond improvements are about bringing equality to what schools districtwide offer, McMinimee said: As it is now, some schools have turf fields and second gyms; others don’t.

“The board made a decision to try to provide equity across the whole system,” he said.

But Leonor Lucero, a parent of two middle school students in South Jeffco, said she opposes the bond since she doesn’t see gym and turf improvements as a priority.

“I would rather see money go to actually repairing schools,” she said.

Sixth-grade shift

Also included in the bond measure is $67 million for the proposed K-5, 6-8 reconfiguration. This would include adding 120 classrooms to 12 middle schools to make room for sixth graders at area elementary schools to move into the middle schools.

With this shift, about 150 portable classrooms at elementary schools will be removed, McMinimee said.

The Jeffco Board of Education approved the middle school plan this summer as part of its Facilities Master Plan, with the goal to provide the same educational opportunities for all students in the district. Five of the district’s 17 middle schools already house sixth graders.

Education experts say most middle schools across the country are gravitating to the sixth- through eighth-grade middle school structure. Dru Tomlin, director of middle-level services at the Association for Middle Level Education, said this is because middle school environments provide programs supporting social and emotional growth, and opportunities that begin readying students for college and careers.

However, Lucero doesn’t believe there is enough research that supports this as a good decision.

“When a school district has so many schools that need new roofs, it’s not a good use of tax dollars,” she said of the shift.

Laura Boggs, a former school board member, opposes the bond measure because she says too much of the bond goes toward what she calls “the forced move of sixth graders from elementary to middle school.”

“I appreciate that this board is saying we believe in moving sixth graders,” she said. “But the community conversation around that hasn’t happened at a deep enough level.”

If the bond should fail, district officials say they will continue to move sixth graders to middle schools, but would have to evaluate where and when that change would be most fiscally feasible.

A look at the mill

The Jeffco Board of Education is also seeking a $33 million mill levy override (3A), which would generate funding to attract and retain teachers, mental health staff and help cover state funding gaps that could affect class sizes and the ability to fund deferred maintenance on buildings.

One-third, or $12.6 million, of the mill levy override would go toward attracting and retaining employees. Of that, $1.6 million is designated for administrators. Board of Education Member Ali Lasell has reported that on average, Jeffco teachers make 19 percent less than those in surrounding districts.

In 2015, the teacher turnover rate for Jeffco Schools rose 6 percent over the previous two years. Lasell hopes that by providing more compensation for teachers, they will stay in the district.

But Lucero and Boggs say that’s not good enough.

“I don’t disagree that teachers in Jeffco are underpaid, and I want them to be paid fair,” Lucero said. “But out of the $33 million, only $8 million is allocated to teachers and thats’ really not going to move the swing. It’s not going to get them to be any more competitive than they are today.”

Boggs said this is disrespectful to school staff and it will not attract or retain good teachers.

Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford said only time will tell.

“It’s a start,” he said, adding that currently Jeffco is not competitive with the surrounding districts. “As we move forward, we always have to keep in mind that our kids come first and the best way to educate kids is to have a high quality educator in front of our classes. If we choose not to address the problem or vote ‘no’ on this, then the consequences are going to be devastating.”

Mental health support for schools is also addressed in the mill allocating $3.7 million toward hiring half-time counselors for every elementary school.

“Our belief is that prevention may be a better investment that reaction,” Board of Education President Ron Mitchell said of increasing the district’s mental health investment.

Being a teacher for more than 20 years, Ford said mental health needs for students is something he has seen an increased need for.

Although increased teacher compensation and mental health have been hot topics in regards to the bond, the biggest chunk of the mill levy override would fill in for reduced state funding for the 2017-2018 school year, which the district has called its first priority. The $29.7 million would go toward backfilling any decreased funding from the state to maintain existing programs and compensation.

“The last time Colorado was at the national average for school funding was 1987,” McMinimee said. “Since that time, there has been a ratcheting down of funding for schools. That’s why you see about 50 school districts this fall going out for bonds and mills.”

Jeffco’s disadvantage in state funding is the formula that gives first funding to at-risk schools, McMinimee said.

With 86,708 students and 155 schools in the district, Jeffco is the second largest school district in the state, behind Denver, which totals at 90,234 students and 175 schools. This is the reason McMinimee said the bond and mill amounts Jeffco is asking for are higher than surrounding districts.

Denver Schools is seeking a $572 million bond and a $56.6 million mill levy override.

“You’ve gotta look at the number but also at the size of the district,” McMinimee said. “When you look around us, smaller districts are looking at more money per student.”

If the measures fail

If the bond and mill don’t pass with voters this election, the Jeffco Board of Education will be tasked with directing staff on how to decrease the budget.

According to the district, some possible impacts are school closures and consolidations; split schedules; year round schools; changing boundaries and transportation radius; limited ability to meet basic deferred maintenance; continuing to lose great staff; larger class sizes; higher fees for parents; lack of resources for student learning; or cutting programs and opportunities for students.

“In Northwest Arvada, the remedy may be different than in South Jeffco,” McMinimee said. “If we don’t have operating dollars, we will look at where to save money. School closures do this.”

Early this year, the district proposed closing eight elementary schools — Glennon Heights, Pleasant View, Patterson, Campbell, Little, Kullerstrand, Stober and Long View — with the hopes of saving money by consolidating the smaller schools into larger ones.

Those school closures did not happen because of the outcry from communities that said they value neighborhood schools, McMinimee said.

Many of the budget cuts would center around making the most of the school buildings. A proposed split schedule would send kindergarten through second grades to school in the morning, with grades three through five attending class 12:30-5:30 p.m.

Year-round schools would split the student body into fourths with students attending school for nine weeks on and three weeks off on a rotating schedule from July 6 to June 25. This would ensure that school buildings were always being utilized, McMinimee said.

“But that puts tremendous pressure on families because they have to find daycare,” he said.

Cutting programs for students is another budget-saving option that would be discussed. McMinimee said this could include foreign languages, athletics, art and English, with reductions largely targeting electives. While the district would cut full programs, they would narrow down the choices students have by offering one or two choices.

“The district in reality doesn’t have to provide electives,” McMinimee said.

Those who oppose the bond and mill, however, are calling the school boards bluff.

“I am absolutely willing to take the risk because history tells us those cuts will not happen; it’s a threat,” Boggs said.

Parents in support of the measures said they are worried about the potential program cuts, split schedules and year round schools. 

“I’m worried about an exodus of high quality teachers,” Peabody said. “I’m fearful that if it doesn’t pass, that our schools won’t be able to function the way they are. Our students are our future and we want to expand what we can give them.”

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