Want to Keep Jeffco Moving Forward? Walk This Weekend.

We know you’re busy. We are too (see, for example, how well we’re keeping up with this blog!).

However, busy won’t help us keep moving Jeffco forward. We remember 2013, 2014, and 2015 all too well: disrespect, drama, and constant turmoil. We don’t want to return to that, which means we need to support our current school board members in November’s election.

This fall, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell are running for re-election to the Jeffco School Board. Both Rupert (District 1) and Harmon (District 2) have opponents, while Mitchell (District 5) is running uncontested. Some of you might be thinking, “So all is well, right? Reasonable people who are listening to all of Jeffco will continue to retain the board majority regardless of what happens.”

Our response: DON’T. GET. COMPLACENT.

The five board members who were elected in 2015 — Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, along with Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell — have worked hard to restore respect, collaboration, and careful decision-making to Jeffco Schools and the community. Don’t mistake respect, civility, and thoughtful discussions for any suggestion that they always vote in tandem. They don’t. On several occasions board members have differed in their opinions, and yes, their vote.

That’s as it should be. And frankly, it’s been a relief for those of us who regularly attend or watch Jeffco School Board meetings to see people taking each other and the issues seriously.

No one has been turned away at public comment since the recall. No one has been insulted by board members. Angry parents, students, and community members have had their chance to address the board when they disagree with a proposal — and Rupert, Harmon, Mitchell, Stevens and Lasell have listened to those voices and made decisions accordingly.

So what have they accomplished?

Brad Rupert explains in this video.

Or if you want the bullet-point version, the current five-member board of education has:

  • Restored respect and civility and professionalism to the Jeffco community, inside the board room and out
  • Expanded public comment opportunities and discussion on all issues facing Jeffco Schools
  • Hired a nationally-known, world-class superintendent, Dr. Jason Glass, to lead Jeffco forward
  • Become more competitive in attracting and retaining teachers
  • Continued to address growth areas in the district, such as northwest Arvada and west-central Jeffco
  • Celebrated with our Jeffco Schools as schools received 31 awards from the state of Colorado, and 11 Jeffco high schools ranked in the U.S. News and World Report top 50.

How can you help?

First, share Brad Rupert’s video on Facebook, Twitter, any other social media sites you use, and through your email network. A lot of Jeffco voters haven’t been paying attention since 2015, and they probably wonder what the clean slate accomplished. Let them know!

Also take time to read and share Superintendent Glass’ blog, Advance Jeffco. He’s encouraging dialogue and questions, and it’s a great place to talk about how to move Jeffco forward.

And walk! Volunteer here to walk or to look for other campaign opportunities (like a house party this Friday). We need people to let Jeffco voters know what Rupert, Harmon and Mitchell have accomplished during the last two years, and why they should vote for them to serve Jeffco students another four years.

We’re finally on a solid path with thoughtful, experienced decision-makers and a deeply knowledgeable superintendent, all working together from the board table in the best interest of Jeffco. Our students, parents, teachers, staff and community have waited a long time for this. We need to keep moving our district forward, rather than returning to failed policies of the past.

JeffCo Proud!

Welcome Back!

We’d like to welcome everyone back to a new school year, and extend a special welcome to our new superintendent, Dr. Jason Glass.

It’s been a while since we’ve updated (summer was busy), but here’s a quick summary of some of the Jeffco Schools news:

Dr. Jason Glass

Jason Glass was approved as Jeffco’s new superintendent by a unanimous vote of the five school board members. Since he started on July 1, he’s been communicating through his Advance Jeffco blog, meeting with the community, and taking time to listen and learn about the many diverse neighborhoods, schools, families, and issues that comprise Jeffco.

We’re very excited to see him so active in the community, and appreciate that he’s taking the time to talk to a diverse assortment of families, students, community groups, and more to get an overall picture of what makes us Jeffco. Please take the time to read his blog and participate in the conversation.

Jeffco School Board Election

Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert, and Susan Harmon kicked off their respective school board campaigns last week and are currently collecting signatures for the petition to place them on the November ballot. Today is the last day to sign – you have several options for locations and times.

For more information about any of the three, to help with their campaigns, or if you’d like to donate to their campaigns, follow this link: http://keepjeffcomovingforward.com/.

Watch for more posts in the coming weeks about how you can help with their campaigns. We’ll also post a brief summary of what the board members have accomplished since the November 2015 election.

Three Creeks opens, renovations on Rose Stein and Sierra Elementary wrap up

Three Creeks K-8 opened to students for the first time, relieving some of the overcrowding in the northwest Arvada area. The school is currently open to K-6 students and will expand to 7th and 8th graders during the next two years.

In addition, the second phase of renovations for Sierra Elementary, also located in Arvada, and renovations on Rose Stein Elementary in Lakewood also wrapped up. Stein had been closed during renovations and now reopened to PK-6 students, and Sierra Elementary’s renovations added seats for the still-growing Arvada community.

We all have an exciting school year ahead, and will continue to update you in the weeks and months ahead. As always, we are

JeffCo Proud!

Have you voted Yes on 3A and 3B yet? Do it today!

Chances are good that if you still have a ballot in hand, someone has contacted you and reminded you to get that ballot in by Nov. 8. Even my weather app is asking if I know where my polling place is. (Answer: yes, but I already voted.)

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Nevertheless, let’s say it again: We need everyone who supports public education to vote Yes on 3A and 3B, the Jeffco Schools mill and bond. We can’t risk another 2013, where very important issues — in that case, the composition of the majority of our school board — was decided by a very small group of the population. The issue that year was not that the majority of Jeffco supported WNW, but that the majority of Jeffco voters did not vote. Don’t let that happen again.

We need you to vote today or Tuesday. It’s too late to mail your ballot, but you can drop it off at a 24-hour ballot box, or at a voter service and polling center. You can also vote in person at the polling centers.

Even better: if you look at the list of polling centers, you can also check estimated wait times at those locations. The polls close at 7 pm on Tuesday night, and we need your yes vote on 3A & 3B.

We’ve given you the basics, explained the 3A mill and 3B bond in greater detail, explained what’s at stake, myth-busted much of the nonsense we’re hearing around both ballot issues, explained the state funding mess, pointed out that the Koch Brothers are back, and pointed out the cost of doing nothing. But if you need one more reason to vote yes, the Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee has it:

“We track how construction costs have gone up since that $99 million bond was put forward, and I think it’s an incredible story that we need to tell. That in an environment where costs were rising 5 to 7 percent per annum — that would be more than 21 percent over the course of these projects — this staff was able to deliver every single project that it promised to the public in Jefferson County and did it in a timely basis. To do it on budget in this environment really means they did it 20 percent under budget.

“We asking for funds to allow us to grow this district in an appropriate manner with the stewardship of those funds that has been demonstrated since the 2004 bond to be unparalleled.

Phillip Infelise, chief collaborator, P-Cubed Partners, LLC and member of Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee, April 21, 2016 meeting with the Jeffco BOE

We think that speaks for itself. Please get out and vote, and remember to go all the way to the bottom of the ballot to vote yes on 3A and 3B.

Jeffco Proud!

The Cost of Doing Nothing

What if we don’t do anything? That is a cost. There is a cost to doing nothing that every person in this county needs to consider.

– Dawn Williams, Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee  (CAAC), at their meeting with the BOE, 4/21/2016

For some, voting on the Jeffco Schools mill and bond, 3A and 3B, seems to be merely a question of whether they think the cost is worth it. What they may be missing is that there’s a cost either way.

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In our last post, we noted that state funding for Jeffco students hasn’t kept up with inflation between 2009 and now. On Tuesday, the state released its first budget forecast and they’re predicting funding cuts for schools.

Under the proposal, the negative factor would increase by $45 million (which, like any good double negative means that funding to schools will decrease). The best-case scenario is that schools will see slight funding increases, but those won’t keep pace with inflation or student population growth.

So what does that mean for Jeffco students?

For starters, it means Jeffco has less resources to support students in the classroom, and is less able to attract and retain great teachers. When pay doesn’t keep pace with inflation, people find jobs that pay better. Our teachers can easily head to Boulder, Denver, or Cherry Creek and gain a significant pay raise by doing so. That’s a significant cost to Jeffco students.

Being unable to have funding to support the purchase of additional learning resources, additional learning specialists to support struggling students, or to be able to expand learning opportunities to include more project-based work, STEM, art, music, and physical education is also a cost. Those are opportunities that Jeffco students don’t have as budgets are chipped away by inflation costs and state mandates.

Worst case scenario? More budget cuts. We haven’t recovered fully from the ones we experienced in past years, but we’ll be faced with more hard choices. The first priority for 3A money is to backfill cuts in state funding. Without it, our students pay the cost.

Another major cost is that Jeffco falls further behind when it comes to maintaining our school facilities. We know how that played out after the 2008 mill and bond failed:

The combination of needing to maintain our older schools, needing to build or renovate schools, and to bring all of our schools up to an appropriate facilities condition index would have been about a $250 million deficit. Over the years that issue has grown to a point where, when we sit as a committee and combine all the economic challenges that face the facilities group in 2016, we’re clearly looking at a number that exceeds $500 million.

– Phillip Infelise, CAAC, 4/21/2016

Steve Bell, Jeffco’s Chief Operations Officer has repeatedly told the board that the cost to adequately maintain Jeffco’s buildings is $65 to $75 million per year according to industry standards. Jeffco only has $18 million in the budget each year.

That’s also a cost. It’s led to more than $500 million in needed maintenance and new construction. Roofs and HVAC systems don’t fix themselves, so the costs continue to add up. For a quick glimpse of what that looks like, watch this video. The 2012 bond addressed the most pressing maintenance needs at the time, but it’s four years later. 3B money will address the current backlog of deferred maintenance.

Jeffco’s Capital Asset Advisory Committee members talked about the costs of deferred maintenance at great length with the Jeffco School Board members at their April 21 meeting. Those costs not only include the accumulated costs of deferred maintenance, but also school choice and learning:

If we allow our structures to become old looking and tired, we’re going to begin to lose…. People are going to find places where they can get a beautiful school and that beautiful school will encourage education.” “When a parent walks into a school and it feels good, looks good, they’re going to say “This is what I want my children to be educated in.”

The teachers and the students are going to feel much better if a school is well lit, the carpet is not worn out, the kitchens are producing the products that we need.”

– Gordon Callahan, CAAC, 4/21/2016

Still feeling skeptical? The facilities costs for doing nothing is much more than worn-out facilities. For example, 10 temporary classrooms were added to West Woods and Meicklejohn elementary schools this year, at a cost of $750,000 for a three-year commitment. That’s a pretty expensive “nothing.”

Another cost is the lost instruction time incurred every time a student housed in a dry temp has to put on a coat and buddy with a partner to leave that classroom and enter the regular school building to use a restroom.

There’s more:

In addition to new construction, other options can include busing, new boundaries, reconfiguration of grades and flex school years – all of which have costs to the families and the district’s budget and staff.

CAAC letter to the Jeffco School Board, 12/17/2015

What are those costs?

Let’s look at busing first. Some have suggested that reopening the currently closed Zerger Elementary would solve all problems. But the numbers suggest otherwise:

  • Zerger Elementary’s capacity: 480 students
  • Estimate of number of additional Jeffco students north of I-70: as many as 6,800 students
  • Cost to run the 6-8 bus routes that Jeffco estimates they would need to bus NW corridor students to Zerger: $47,000/route for a total of $280,000 to $375,000 annually.
  • Cost to recommission the building: $150,000
  • Cost of needed capital investments: $575,000
  • Total cost: $1,005,000.00

That’s a lot of cost for a building that will only accommodate a small fraction of the new seats needed in the area. Bond money would likely be needed in order to get the school up and running and address the maintenance issues to keep it warm, safe, and dry.

It also doesn’t get at the more thorny questions, including how many seats would actually be available to the students in new developments. Zerger’s attendance before it closed was around 290 according to facility reports. Reopening the school might only net 200 extra seats, if that, plus handfuls of empty seats from the two schools that absorbed the Zerger students. We happen to think that creates more problems than it solve, with a million-dollar price tag no less.

Others have asked about the former Sobesky building. Let’s look at those numbers:

  • Year built: 1947
  • Size: approximately 30,000 square feet
  • Capacity: 193 students

One of the reasons the district wanted to move Sobesky to a new location was that the building was not up to code and as a result, younger students could not attend.

The district may be able to sell it, but we’re doubtful that it would fetch enough of an asking price to make a dent in the $535 million in facilities needs.

Why not sell Zerger instead? They have been trying since the school was closed in 2011 and the school board voted to, but with no luck so far. Zerger’s location is a challenge. It was built as a neighborhood school and with the expectation that students would walk or bike. Parking is at a premium. A charter school might be interested, but there are already three charter schools located within a couple of miles of Zerger, including one located in the same neighborhood.

There is a cost to doing nothing, and it’s not cheap. We think it’s more fiscally prudent to be proactive and address these educational and facilities needs with targeted funding to enhance learning, expand facilities, and addresse deferred maintenance in ways that will net cost savings that can be directed back into the classroom in the long run. With interest rates at historic lows, the 3B bond makes good sense.

We encourage you to vote Yes on 3A and 3B, spread the word, and make sure ballots are turned in by Nov. 8.

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Jeffco Proud!

 

State Funding vs. Property Taxes: Why We Need 3A and 3B

Have you found yourself thinking about how your property taxes were higher this year and wondering why school districts across Colorado, including Jeffco Schools, are asking for more money in mill and bond requests like 3A and 3B?

We have answers. Read on!

Believe it or not, both of these things are true:

  1. Property taxes in Jeffco increased due to increased home values in the area.
  2. State school funding remained largely flat.

In Jeffco, state funding for the 2016-17 year increased 1.2 percent over 2015-16 funding, as reported in Jeffco’s 2016-17 Dollars and Sense brochure. Inflation, however, has been measured at 2.8 percent on the Front Range and is predicted to be at 2.6 percent this year.

When we say state funding has remained “largely flat” what we mean is that sometimes — such as this year–it isn’t even keeping up with inflation, which means less money for classrooms, for maintaining facilities, and for keeping pay competitive.

What’s worse is that even though the housing market is booming and taxes are up, the Denver Post reported last month that 2017-18 budget cuts may be on the way:

Colorado’s state budget faces a potential deficit this fiscal year, economic forecasters told state lawmakers Tuesday, as tax revenues continue to fall short of previous expectations.

If true, that would mean cuts to K-12 funding for 2017-18, and potentially mid-year cuts this year.

Let’s repeat that: despite a booming economy and increased property taxes, Jeffco Schools could see mid-year budget cuts this year.

That was the news a week ago. A few days ago Chalkbeat report Nic Garcia tweeted that the state budget chief now thinks that won’t happen. However, we won’t know more until the budget forecast is released at the beginning of November.

Here’s how school funding can remain flat even though your taxes increased:

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It’s pretty simple: the state uses more of your local taxes to fund your schools and decreases their share to use elsewhere in the budget. Mill levy override funds, on the other hand, aren’t part of the equation. All money from 3A and 3B stays in Jeffco and puts additional money in all our schools — charter, option, or neighborhood — and does so equitably. All students benefit.

Money from 3A becomes part of the operating budget; money from 3B is specifically for facilities, including capital maintenance, new construction, and school additions.

This chart that shows Jeffco’s state funding for the past several years. Note that 2016-17 funding is a mere $167 more than it was in 2009-2010.

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If state funding was keeping up with inflation, our students should be receiving $7,956 this year — $719 more than actual funding levels.

That’s why school funding needs a grassroots effort — in this case, 3A and 3B.

This graphic shows the difference that mill levy override funding makes for students. Boulder and Denver voters have approved many more 3A dollars for their students, which means their districts have more dollars for the classroom every year.

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Also, we’ve seen some crazy posts complaining that money from 3B isn’t being used to target student achievement. First, the law dictates that 3B money has to be used for facilities. Second, students learn better when they’re not being distracted by cold air from drafty windows, chilly classrooms from outdated HVAC systems, or water dripping into a bucket in their classroom because the leaky roof hasn’t been fixed. It’s just common sense.

A few other points:

1.  Yes, it would be nice if the state would get rid of the negative factor and restore that money to schools. But it hasn’t happened despite intense lobbying from Colorado’s superintendents, advocacy groups like Great Education Colorado, and individual citizens.

Instead, more cuts are predicted. Are we content to sit by and watch our school budgets get slashed again, or can we do better for our students? Our answer: by voting Yes on 3A and 3B Jeffco can do better.

2.  Marijuana money won’t dig us out of the funding hole. In fact, Jeffco isn’t receiving any pot tax. It isn’t and won’t help us with the current issues.

3.  Last, don’t forget that there is a cost to doing nothing in Jeffco. The leaky roofs won’t miraculously repair themselves. The cost to educate students and maintain our facilities won’t decrease if we choose to ignore it. We’ll talk about that more in another post.

Want one more reason? Watch Jeffco Economic Development Corporation Chair David Jones explain why the JEDC endorsed 3A 3B:

Please vote Yes on 3A and 3B, and then get those ballots in. Use this graphic to encourage others to vote by Nov. 8.

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JeffCo Proud!