Myth-Busting the Jeffco Schools 3B Bond

As we’ve explained in previous posts, voters are being asked to approve mill levy override and bond issue on this fall’s ballot, known as 3A and 3B. We’ve seen a lot of false statements by the anti-tax crowd that opposes it, so today we’d like to separate fact from fiction regarding the bond.

LogicFail

Myth: 3B will increase the amount residents pay in property taxes in 15 years.

Fact: This bond is structured like recent previous bonds, such as those in 2004. It is a 25-year bond and the financial piece has been organized to make sure the burden to the taxpayers is consistent throughout the next 25 years.  

Those perpetuating the myth that the costs will go up have forgotten that Jeffco will pay off previous bonds during this time period, which will allow them to keep the cost to taxpayers the same, whether taxpayers are paying their taxes next year or in twenty.

Myth(s): Too much (or not enough) of the bond is being allocated to new schools. Too much (or not enough) of the bond is being allocated to Jeffco’s maintenance backlog. Too much (or not enough) of the bond will be used for additions to existing schools.

Fact: The bond balances the district’s need for new schools in growing areas of the county, with the ability to create efficiencies by adding classrooms to some existing buildings rather than construct entirely new schools.

The reality is that in some areas, more classrooms at an existing school will address our students’ needs, while in other areas — particularly those that were mere fields back in 2008 — need an entirely new school. All of our existing schools also have maintenance needs, and part of the bond will also be used to address the most critical needs.

Myth: All sorts of bond money will be wasted on fees and overruns.

Fact: Any good bond will be structured so that the projects in the bond won’t exceed the value of the bond.

If you’ve done any kind of major renovation of your house, you know that the initial cost estimate is just that: an estimate. The cost of construction materials alone has skyrocketed in Jeffco in the past years as building has boomed, and those costs also affect any construction and maintenance done to our schools.

If the bond didn’t include contingency dollars and the cost of supplies inflates even more, either the school would be forced to come back and ask for more money to complete the promised projects, or they’d have to tell certain communities, “sorry, we wanted to do that but we ran out of money.”

Structuring the bond to account for inflation and to make sure that projects will not exceed the bond amount is smart financial planning — and the reason that the Jeffco Schools Financial Oversight Committee encouraged the school board members to put 3A and 3B on the ballot.

Myth: This is a “billion dollar bond.”

Fact: This is a $535 million bond and calling it anything else is just plain silly.

A bond is a lot like a mortgage. Schools borrow the amount they need, and they pay it back with interest. If you borrow $80,000 for a mortgage, you call it an $80,000 mortgage even though you’ll pay much more than that with interest. 3B isn’t any different.

The district has typically included the entire payback amount in the ballot language. While we agree that the payback amounts are shocking to see (and for that matter, think that about car payments and our own mortgages too!), there’s nothing unusual here.

As a comparison, the 2012 ballot for the voter-approved $99 million warm, safe and dry bond read as follows:

SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S DEBT BE INCREASED $99 MILLION WITH A MAXIMUM REPAYMENT COST OF $195 MILLION OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY, AND SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S TAXES BE INCREASED $19.8 MILLION ANNUALLY OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY FOR THE PAYMENT OF SUCH DEBT …

Here’s the language in this fall’s ballot:

SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S DEBT BE INCREASED $535 MILLION WITH A REPAYMENT COST OF $987.22 MILLION OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY, AND SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S TAXES BE INCREASED $72.6 MILLION ANNUALLY OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY FOR THE PAYMENT OF SUCH DEBT….

Let’s compare them.

2012

  • $99 million bond
  • Total payment to not exceed $195 million

2016

  • $535 million bond
  • Total payment not to exceed $987.22 million.

The repayment is similar, except in 2016 the district is able to make a better deal thanks to low interest rates. If this bond was structured the same as the 2012 $99 million bond, it actually could have had a total payment that is $71.56 million more.

We’re no math whizzes, but we think saving more than $71 million by borrowing now is a pretty good deal.

The 3B bond is a strategic, thoughtful decision that will allow Jeffco to repair, update, and build well-maintained schools for our students. We encourage you to vote Yes on 3A and 3B and hope you will encourage others to do the same.

Have you voted yet? If not, remember that you can drop off your ballot at any of the county’s drop boxes, send it by mail (though use 2 stamps just to be on the safe side.

Every vote counts, and we hope you will support 3A and 3B. Please also help us get out the vote by encouraging others to turn in their ballot and then use this fabulous profile picture to encourage even more voters to turn their ballots in too. Thank you!

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JeffCo Proud!

Join Us in Voting Yes on 3A & 3B

Jeffco School Board Watch began when our district was controlled by a board majority who did not have Jeffco students’ best interests at heart. Last year, those three board members were recalled by two-thirds of the vote, and five new school board members took office a few days later. Now we have a school board working together to ensure all 86,000 Jeffco students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for their future. But our work has not ended. Next we must ensure Jeffco voters support 3A and 3B, the mill and bond. Our next several posts will address the importance of these two measures in greater detail, but overall, here’s why we at Jeffco School Board Watch will be voting Yes on 3A and 3B and why we hope you’ll join us:

The Mill Levy Override – 3A

The mill, 3A, will provide an additional $33 million in operating dollars that will benefit all of Jeffco’s neighborhood, option, and charter schools. Jeffco has received $481 million less in state funding over the past five years, and the state warns we should brace for more cuts. Issue 3A provides a local solution – dollars that will stay in Jeffco and benefit Jeffco students.

Specifically, those dollars will allow Jeffco to expand music, art, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and vocational programming in schools, while also providing more school-level budget funding (Student Based Budgeting or SBB) so schools can best serve the needs and interests of their individual student populations. The mill will also provide extra financial support for Jeffco’s smallest neighborhood schools to address their unique budget challenges, and distribute an equal portion of funding to Jeffco’s charter schools. And, Issue 3A will fund increased mental health support for schools, including a half-time counselor at every elementary school, and will provide additional dollars for security and emergency management.

The Bond – 3B

The bond, 3B, will provide $535 million in funding to construct new schools, address a backlog of repairs, update security systems, and add educational opportunities for Jeffco’s sixth grade students by moving them to middle school. Jeffco has a growing repair and maintenance backlog, and has not had money to invest in new classroom space since the 2004 bond passed. Again, Issue 3B provides a local solution, and the dollars will stay in Jeffco and benefit Jeffco students.

Specifically, 3B will provide funding to construct three new elementary schools in overcrowded areas of Jeffco. The funds will also allow the district to replace four aging schools, and renovate or build additions at 45 other schools. Plus, 110 schools will receive much-needed and long-overdue repairs and upgrades. Jeffco students will benefit from updated technology and lab spaces. And those in sixth grade will have access to more academic and elective options in middle schools.

Together, 3A and 3B are an investment in Jeffco’s future that will cost just $4.12 per month for every $100,000 of home value.

How You Can Help

To help get these measures passed, please consider walking door to door, or calling voters, or writing a letter to the editor. Pick up and display a yard sign, and print this sign for your car window.
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Finally, please consider donating to ensure every Jeffco voter receives factual information about the mill and bond. If you’ve already donated, thank you! Please consider another donation to help the campaign reach their goal.

We here at Jeffco School Board Watch thank you for all you’ve already done and all you will be doing to help Jeffco pass 3A & 3B November 8.

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JeffCo Proud!

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 2

Here’s part 2 of our summary of board actions and other board work to-date. If you missed it, start with part 1, which summarizes some of their work regarding Certificates of Participation and other major issues.  This post will focus on negotiations and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Employee Negotiations

Negotiations season is just kicking off, and the board has heard from both the district and JCEA about the process and issues that will take center stage. The board heard a presentation from JCEA at the 2/18/16 study session and gave the district negotiating team some direction regarding upcoming negotiation sessions.

JCEA identified some issues they’d like to address in negotiations:

  • Increase professional development funding (it was cut during the recession)
  • To include JCEA as part of the teacher induction program again (last August they were refused)
  • To restore association leave for leadership roles. JCEA pays for subs during a member’s leave, and this issue was previously part of the contract.
  • A predictable, comprehensive salary schedule for all employees (a grid system)

JCEA agrees that teachers need to be rated effective or highly effective to move a step but want a rich conversation with the district about other things that should be happening annually, like regular professional development or other expectations.

In addition, JCEA said they do not want to see a distinction made regarding effective and highly effective teachers when it comes to the salary structure currently because they are not confident in the current inter-rater reliability within schools or across the district. They also think it reduces collegiality within the schools. They see the primary purpose of evaluations as leading to growth rather than being tied to income.

Many of the same issues, especially regarding competitive pay and a predictable schedule, were mentioned by the district as well.

The district’s negotiating team also asked board members to list some of their priorities at the Feb. 18 meeting. Board members said:

  • Be more competitive in compensation, within the restraints of the budget and with the understanding that Jeffco will likely never offer the highest salaries in the area
  • Compensation for masters degrees, though some board members want to see that tied closely to a teacher’s subject matter or to teaching in general (as opposed to someone with a completely unrelated master’s degree)
  • Compensation for additional credit hours beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Additional compensation for hard-to-fill positions, like speech pathologists and school psychologists
  • Compensation tied to experience

There were other issues where the board remains uncertain:

  • Compensation tied to performance

All indicated they’d like to see some of that, but the how and why are very unclear. There are concerns about the reliability of the evaluation system, about whether a distinction should be made between effective and highly effective, and how to measure that appropriately.

Susan Harmon was very clear that she doesn’t want to see performance tied to test scores; Ron Mitchell said he sees effective and highly effective ratings as a continuum, and that he doesn’t think there’s much difference between a teacher who’s at the high end of effective or a teacher at the low-end of highly effective.

  • Additional compensation for school subjects

Board members were split on this question, which largely applies to high schools. Some argued that a math teacher should be paid more than an English teacher if those positions are harder to fill; others said that if you have a highly effective music teacher and a highly effective science teacher, both have a major, positive impact on students and the school so it’s hard to justify paying one more than the other. No decisions were made there.

  • Additional compensation for placement in more challenging schools

Board members are very mixed on this one. They all agree that something should be done to make those positions more attractive, but whether that will be through providing some sort of additional compensation, additional recognition, or additional resources and support remains to be decided.

Much of the research indicates that additional compensation might be enough to bring a teacher to schools with higher poverty rates and other challenges, but isn’t usually enough to keep them there. Feedback from the “strategic comp” project also indicated that what teachers find more compelling are strong leaders, a cooperative team, and lots of support and resources to help with the challenges.

The negotiation sessions are being streamed and archived. Archived sessions (which of this writing only include the 2/6/16 negotiation session) can be viewed here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/4781604

Negotiation session dates are posted here: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=A6TT4P718068

Other Jeffco School Board actions

Charter School Contract Renewals

Charter school contract renewals are typically on the consent agenda unless there is a special issue at stake. We’re noting this under other business because the board dedicated part of a study session on 1/28/16 to learn about the renewal process.

Facilities Master Plan

The board heard an update on the facilities master planning process at the 1/28/16 study session. Expect to hear more about the updated facilities master plan in March.

Technology and Date Privacy Advisory Committee

The 1/28/16 study session included an update from the TDPAC.

2016 Legislative Season

The board has received a few legislative updates and is working on a TABOR statement. They’re also expected to take positions on upcoming legislation soon, likely in March, but some board members wanted more time to read through the full bill before voting one way or the other.

Board members also met with Jeffco legislators on 1/26/16, largely to discuss school funding issues, but also to talk with them about other proposals that affect education.

Budget Process & Board Ends

Since taking office, the board has had multiple presentations about the budget process as well as the community engagement process. In addition, they recently heard from the community directly at a series of community budget forums held Feb. 1-10.

Board members discussed what they’d heard at these forums at their 2/18/16 study session. Everyone noted that they heard lots of positive feedback about the Jeffco 20/20 Vision, which was good news. The community forums also focused on board ends and the budget.

Most heard a fair amount of dissatisfaction regarding board ends, with concern that the ends didn’t consider the whole child, weren’t sufficient, were unrealistic in some ways, relied on test scores too much, and were not specific enough in other ways. More project-based assessments, parent involvement (including diversified pathways for that involvement), more pathways for college and career planning, and more focus on special populations was mentioned.

Parent involvement in middle school and high school also was noted as an issue, as was the continued push to offer free full-day kindergarten throughout the district. The board is looking to schedule a retreat to discuss and revise those ends further sometime this spring.

When it came to the budget, many members noted that community members really wanted “both/and” (a feeling that’s familiar to most of us in these years of tight budgets). Technology needs, employee compensation, free full-day kindergarten and the needs of special populations were also prominent in those discussions.

Board Policies

There have been multiple long conversations about current board policies and wording. We’ve noted significant changes above. The rest are (to our eyes) minor, so we invite interested parties to look at the various revised documents from the 1/14, 2/4 and 2/18 meetings via BoardDocs.

The board’s next regular meeting will be March 3. We invite you to join us there or to watch via streaming.

Jeffco Proud!

BOE Agenda for 5/7/15 – Or should we say Hidden Agenda?

The school board will meet in regular session on Thursday 5/7/15. Here’s the link to the live stream: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

After public comment is complete and Julie Williams is properly chastised for her Day of Hate post, the meeting will discuss many issues.  Among the more interesting consent agenda items is a delay, after 90 days, for an additional 30 days to extend the charter for four charter schools:  Free Horizon Montessori, Lincoln Academy, Montessori Peaks Academy and Rocky Mountain Deaf School.  Why the delay until June?  We will only know in June!  Is this a classic attempt to move it out of the public spotlight?  Especially since the chief financial officer raises some Yellow Flags on some of these schools?

One of the main agenda items is a review of the fiscal third quarter. Thanks to so many people leaving the district and unfilled positions, there are actually savings being realized in the expenditures due to staffing holes.  Despite this, in  five places in the presentation, the chief financial officer may be asking for supplemental appropriations for COPs, Building Fund, Debt Service, Activity Fund, and Enterprise Funds (Food, Childcare, Property Management).

There is a discussion item on Ends goals.  But no supporting documents as of Sunday May 3rd.  Why?

There is a discussion of the tabled motion on Facilities.  The board has heard repeatedly from district staff that there needs to be building in the north part of the district.  Again there is to be a presentation to the board on this.  Will they listen this time?  Who knows.  Meanwhile, there is no presentation available again on the day the agenda is posted.  Meanwhile, read about a conflict of interest for Witt elsewhere around building schools.

One of the normally sleeper topics, review of board policy is interesting.  This document EL-02, covers Treatment of Parents, Guardians, and Community. Reference to another document posted here, is being removed and replaced with a generic statement about cooperation of the superintendent with the public.  Why the fear of having a well-defined process?  Afraid of accountability?  Who knows?

With this BOE, the mysteries just grow and never really get solved. Sure, they could argue that the policy should stand on its own and not reference another document. But what is left has no appeal process.  Yet another way to close the public out of the debate about what is best for kids.  Here are parts of a brochure describing the policy.  All of this will be rescinded with the change proposed by “district staff.”

How do you feel you have been treated so far?  Expect worse.

A couple of other housekeeping notes:

1. Have you written to the BOE and/or the district and received a dismissive, demeaning or otherwise unprofessional response? If so, we encourage you to reply and copy board@jeffco.k12.co.us. Note that your question was not addressed, even though someone clearly had the time to respond. This will ensure your response gets into BoardDocs and the public will be able to track the number of unprofessional or otherwise inappropriate responses to JeffCo parents and community members.

2. A number of people have been surprised by the public comment rules, which are definitely confusing. Here’s what you need to know if you want to speak to the board at Thursday’s meeting:

  • Signup time is limited! It opens at 10 am on Monday, and closes at 3:30 pm on Thursday. Don’t wait!
  • If you are speaking on an agenda item, sign up for Part 1 of public comment. If not, sign up for Part 2.
  • The amount of time you are allowed to speak varies, and you won’t know how long you have until you’re at the meeting. In general, there are enough people signed up for public comment that individual speakers are limited to 1 or 2 minutes while groups of receive 5 minutes. Play it safe: plan to speak no longer than 2 minutes, and have a 1-minute version you can use just in case. The way it works is based on the number of people who sign up:
    • 0-20 speakers = individuals 3 minutes, groups 10 minutes
    • 21-30 speakers = individuals 2 minutes, groups 5 minutes
    • 30 + speakers = individuals 1 minute, groups 3 minutes

 Keep watching, keep fighting JeffCo!