Jefferson County voters will be asked to approve a $568 million bond and mill levy package to repair the school district’s aging schools, build new ones, hire new mental health staff and update technology and other school operations.
“We have …
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“We have got to make sure that we become the masters of our own destiny in this district and that we maintain the funds to retain the very best teachers in this district…,” said Brad Rupert of the Jefferson County Board of Education. “We’ve got no reason to believe that suddenly there will be a miraculous solution to the funding problem and the funding will be given to us. … We have to do what we can to try and close the gap in funding.”
The school board voted Aug. 2 to place the two proposals — a $535 million bond issue and a $33 million mill levy — on the Nov. 8 ballot. The school district serves 86,000 students.
The bond would fund both phases in the district’s Facilities Master Plan, including replacement of four school facilities and construction of three new elementary schools; renovation and construction of additions at 45 schools and facilities; and repair and update 110 schools, including technology, lab spaces and furnishings.
The increase in the mill levy would increase per-pupil funding for STEM, art, music and career/tech programs; improve safety and security, including hiring additional school counselors; cover any funding gaps; and provide additional monies for compensation to attract and retain good teachers.
“The need has been very well documented for us in the few months we’ve sat on this board,” board president Ron Mitchell said. “The timing in financing bonds is very good and this is an opportunity we should not miss.”
If approved, the bond and mill levy proposals would cost a homeowner $49.51 a year for each $100,000 of home value and non-residential property owners $180.38 a year for each $100,000 of property value. That means the owner of a $300,000 home — a little more than the average residential assessment in Jefferson County — would pay $148.53 a year. A business owner would pay $541.14 a year for property assessed at $300,000.
Former Board of Education member Ken Witt, who was defeated in a recall election last year, was critical of the bond package.
“If your financial advisor suggested you borrow $568 dollars with a $1000 dollar payback over time, you would probably fire them. Yet, this Jeffco board is pursuing a $568 million bond and mill levy package with a $1 billion payback,” he said. “This 2016 bond and mill will sell out Jeffco students’ futures and break the backs of Jeffco taxpayers.”
The few residents who spoke during the July 28 and Aug. 2 board meetings said they would support those tax increases.
“I believe that this board would stand with me for making this pledge and commitment to work with the best of our ability to ensure the opportunities will be better for my granddaughter than they were for my son,” said Bill Bottoms, a parent of a Jeffco graduate and member of the citizen group, Citizens Who Support Jeffco Schools, which was founded to promote the bond and mill levy override.
Jennifer Granberry, a parent at Kendrick Lakes Elementary School in Lakewood, said now is the time to push for the funding, as her school, along with the district’s other 153 schools, is rapidly aging.
“It has become clear that we can no longer wait to put off the deferred maintenance..., especially given the lead issue,” she said. “We need this money and we need this bond and mill levy money now.”
Annually, district officials said Jeffco has been receiving $77 million less in state funding because of the negative factor, which reflects the amount of money a district does not receive because of a reduction in statewide K-12 education funding.In all, the district has received $485 million less in state funding since the 2009-2010 school year because of the negative factor.
“The deficits, the impact on our kids cannot continue…,” board member Susan Harmon said. “When we are looking at this, we are broadly looking at this and we appreciate the significance and the impact. But the impact on our kids far outweighs the tax increase.”
The last time Jefferson County voters were asked to raise taxes for education was in 2013, when 65 percent of voters turned down Proposition 66, a sales tax increase to fund statewide education.
Jill Fellman, who served on the school board from 2011-2015, said she supports the current board’s decision.
“I share the belief that it is critical we ensure Jeffco students excel in an engaging, safe learning environment that prepares them for college or career,” she said. “We also want to attract and keep top teachers and make sure they have the resources they need to address the diverse needs of all learners.”
But not everyone in the district is pleased.
Jeffco resident Cindy Kruse wrote a critical email to the board after its decision, saying: “You need to see just where you can cut corners on your wasteful spending and all those run-down schools should have been kept up from the start.”
If approved, the bond tax will be in place for the next 20 years, and the mill tax will be permanent.
“PreK-12 funding in Colorado faces a lot of challenges,” said John Ford, president of the district’s teachers’ union in an email. “… The negative factor, passed during the Great Recession, is still in effect and continues to grow. Once we have a finalized proposal for a bond and mill levy override, it will go through our process where our members, the educators who are in the schools every day, will determine if JCEA will support the effort this fall.”
The district plans to provide information to students, staff and Jeffco taxpayers on what the additional cost might looks like for individual households.
Harmon emphasized it’s time to lessen the deficit’s impact on Jeffco students.
“Our programs deserve this,” she said. “Our kids deserve this.”
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