It came down to the wire.
Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass called it a “Hail Mary.”
On Election Night, the measure was down more than 8,000 votes, but as more votes were counted in the days that followed Election Day, the gap between those wanting to fund the $567 million bond for Jefferson County Public Schools and those not, narrowed.
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“There was something systematic in that last batch of votes,” Glass said, “The later votes were more supportive of public education than the first batch.”
On the morning of Saturday, Nov. 10, vote for the bond surpassed 50 percent with 50.22 percent of Jeffco voters in favor — a difference of 1,286 votes.
It would not be until a week after Election Day when the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder would update its site with the last of all its ballots counted, that supporters of the bond could breath a sigh of relief. In the end, the bond passed with 50.24 percent support, 1,417 votes ahead.
The bond — a financial mechanism to pay for building construction, renovations and capital improvements — would bring outdated district buildings up to structural and educational standards, to address continuing population growth and improve school security measures.
For Alameda High School teacher Erin Murphy passage of the bond means healthier and safer environments for her students.
“Many of our students have evacuated their classrooms multiple times due to leaks and flooding, and that is incredibly disruptive to their learning,” Murphy said. “The passage of the bond will give my students the opportunity to attend a school that is healthy, safe, and equipped to prepare them for life after high school.”
This was the fifth bond proposed for Jeffco schools since 2004, when the last major bond for facility improvements ($323.8 million) was passed. Voters approved a $99 million bond for repairs related to keeping schools warm, safe and dry in 2012. But they rejected a $535 million bond in 2016 and a similar request in 2008.
If the bond sticks, Glass said the district will see work happening to execute the bond program as early as spring of next year.
“If it’s successful, there will be some exciting facility improvements coming to Jeffco,” Glass said, adding that if not, the district will continue to make do with what they have.
At the board study session the morning of Nov. 7, Board President Ron Mitchell said he was confused by the lack of initial support for the bond.
"For the 3 years I’ve been on the board we’ve heard that people love the neighborhood schools and want to keep them open,” he said. “Yet at the same time I’m surprised that maybe they don’t understand that there is a cost in doing that.”
Passing the mill
The bonds counterpoint, 5A, a $33 million mill levy override got a pass from voters by more than 54 percent.
For fifth-grade teacher Hannah Bruner, the passage of the tax measure that would raise teacher salaries in Jeffco Public Schools brought a sense of relief.
"Since I entered the profession I have had to work multiple jobs in order to pay my bills,” Bruner said. “The passage of the mill means that for the first time in my career, I might be able to focus solely on my students.”
About half of the mill levy override would provide money to give teachers raises.
Glass said this breaks down to roughly $15 million for employee benefits.
“It’s not a life-changer, but it will help,” Glass said, explaining that it takes about $6 million to pay a one percent raise for teachers and staff.
Roughly $3 million will go to charter schools. The other $15 million is split for student safety improvements, programming in career and technical resources and STEM options, technology, and to expand full-day early childhood education.
A similar ask was rejected in 2016.
"I’m gratified about 5A, we really value our educators that we have the Jeffco and I think 5A will help us stop hemorrhaging those educators to other districts," said Jeffco Schools boardmember Brad Rupert.
Since this money comes from property taxes, it won’t be available until spring of 2019, Glass said. There will also be an extensive budgeting process over the next few month with more precision in allocating funds than what was listed in the campaign material. Glass said that since several buckets on the ballot initiative involved hiring staff, that won’t happen until the next school year.
“We always said we would look at what happened after Election Day and determine how much good we can do with what we got,” Glass said. “We’re grateful for the voters approving 5A. We’re going to put it to good use and it’s going to do a lot of good things for Jeffco.”
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