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!