Jefferson County

Educating community key to passing school bond, tax proposals

Opponents say 'need is great,' but measures are flawed

Posted 10/6/16

They are walking door to door canvassing neighborhoods.

They are calling residents.

And this week, a mailing campaign will start.

Citizens for Jeffco, a group of concerned citizens, business leaders and parents in Jefferson County, is …

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Jefferson County

Educating community key to passing school bond, tax proposals

Opponents say 'need is great,' but measures are flawed

Posted

They are walking door to door canvassing neighborhoods.

They are calling residents.

And this week, a mailing campaign will start.

Citizens for Jeffco, a group of concerned citizens, business leaders and parents in Jefferson County, is working hard to educate neighbors and residents about the Jeffco Schools' bond and mill levy override measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“We still feel like we have a lot of work to do,” said Bill Bottoms, campaign chairman for the organization, which supports the two measures, known as 3A and 3B.

Citizens for Jeffco has taken the lead in communicating with community members about the measures, which school officials say are crucial to updating aging buildings and ensuring academic student success but some residents oppose as financially irresponsible.

The bulk of the proposed $535 million bond (3B) would provide money for improvements and repairs to schools. The $33 million mill levy override (3A) 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 mantenance on buildings.

The measures are on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot, which will be mailed to voters starting Oct. 17. Together, they would increase residential taxes by $49.44 a year for every $100,000 in home value. Non-residential properties would pay an additional $180.36 a year for every $100,000 of property value.

With monies gained from the bond, improvements and repairs to 110 schools are proposed, along with major renovations and additions of 45 schools and facilities. Four replacement and three new elementary schools are also proposed.

If the bond and mill override don't pass, the district will will need to restructure the budget, which Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee said could include school closures and program cuts.

McMinimee and members of the Board of Education also are meeting with area civic groups and parents to spread the word and educate voters.

“I've been to close to 50 community meetings since Aug. 2, in addition to presentations with neighborhood groups,” McMinimee said, adding that civic groups and business organizations are ways to connect with people who are not active in the school community.

“If someone's not aware of Jeffco going out for a bond and mill, then they aren't paying attention,” McMinimee said. “There's a lot of opportunities for people to get connected.”

Voter turnout crucial

As of Oct. 3, Jefferson County had 422,044 registered voters with 365,400 of those voters being active. The largest age group of active voters ranges in age from 41 to 60. That group makes up 26 percent of active voters, with the Republican-to-Democrat and male-to-female ratios almost even.

“It is a hard ask, especially in Jeffco,” McMinimee said of the measures. “Seventy percent of our voters don't have kids in schools.”

That dynamic is one that political science Professor Robert Preuhs of Metropolitan State University of Denver says might be offset by the high voter turnout expected in November for the presidential election.

“You want to see higher turnout elections to pass bonds,” Preuhs said. “It brings in a wider variety of voters. With the presidential election this year, we should see a higher turnout, which includes low-income families that may benefit from more funding for schools.”

Higher voter turnouts also tend to bring more Democrats to the polls, who as a whole are inclined to increase funds for schools, Preuhs said. “Traditional older voters that don't see immediate benefit may be offset by higher turnout by younger voters with children.”

The last Jeffco Schools' tax increases were voted on in 2012, also a presidential election year. There was a 91.5 percent voter turnout for the bond and mill levy questions, which passed with 59 percent and 55 percent, respectively. The 2012 bondof $99 millionwill be paid off in 2032.

“Voters are reasonably rational," Preuhs said, "and they tend to support bonds when there is a clear, well-recognized need for that spending.”

Opposition questions cost, presentation

Bottoms said he is optimistic about the support he has seen for the measures.

“We've got a very proactive and passionate group that are supporting this,” he said. “I think we should be striving to improve education every year. I think (the bond and mill) are critical to the county and we have to make sure schools grow at the same time as the population.”

But Laura Boggs, a former school board member, believes the bond and mill proposals are flawed and she has actively opposed them. Boggs is a member of Jeffco Students First Action, a nonpartisan group that is concerned about many of the provisions of the bond and mill measures. The group has created flyers pointing out discrepancies and is raising attention to them through their Facebook page.

“They seriously need a gut-check on how they do community engagement,” Boggs said of the current Board of Education. She doesn't believe the measures have been communicated properly to the community.

Boggs' main objection to the bond and mill overrride are the way they are presented and the cost. The combined mill and bond plans total $568 million, but Boggs contends that with the addition of interest payments, the total payback is close to $1 billion.

“They are underpaying the principal and interest for the first 10 years,” Boggs said. “It is not an honest conversation with our community.”

McMinimee, however, said it is not common practice to include interest rates in the totals presented on the ballot, especially since schools will have the option down the road to refinance much like they did with the 1997 bonds, which will be paid off in 2017.

If the bond and mill override pass, schools will start collecting on them in January.

“From our perspective, it's heartbreaking because the need is so great,” Boggs said, adding that she would be inclined to give more money to schools if the payback was at a lower cost.

Other objections include the amount of money being allocated toward the sixth-grade shift. “Let's vote `no' and send them back to the drawing board,” Boggs suggested. “Because there are great ways to invest in our students and staff and buildings without $1 billion.”

The Jeffo Board of Education, however, believes this is a critical juncture for schools and students and the time to act is now.

"I find much of the information that the opposition is publishing to be inaccurate," Board of Education President Ron Mitchell said. "Much of it is very exaggerated, and it's actually designed to create distrust and fear in the voting population. That, in my opinion, is unfortunate." 

Addressing aging buildings through the bond and improving teacher compensation and mental health programs through the mill levy override are top priorities for the board, Mitchell said.

"We believe that the needs in our school district are critical at this time," he said, "and this is not a can that we can continue to kick down the road."

Jefferson County, Citizens for Jeffco , $535 million bond, 33 million mill levy override

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