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!

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!

 

Jeffco 3A & 3B Basics: Understanding the Bond

This is the second post in our series on understanding why the Jeffco School Board is asking for a mill and bond this year. Today’s post focuses on 3B, the bond.

How did we get here?

First, we’ll remind you that funding – or lack thereof – has been the biggest challenge for a number of years. You may remember this graph:

NegativeFactorWithout the negative factor, Jeffco Schools would have received $481 million more from the state during the past five years. Instead, Jeffco has been making do with less, while simultaneously petitioning legislators to reduce the negative factor and put that money back into schools. In real terms, this means we’ve been deferring maintenance, and that backlog is growing.

In addition, although Jeffco home values are at an all-time high, the resulting increase in your property taxes has not increased Jeffco’s funding. Instead, the state puts more of those taxes into schools, but then takes an equal amount of state funds to use elsewhere in the budget, as you can see in the graph below.

StateLocalfundingMill levy override funds are different. They stay in Jeffco and lead to increased per-pupil funding.

In 2012, we passed a $99 million bond to address the most urgent facilities needs like new roofs, HVAC systems and more. Those needs have been addressed — on time and within budget — but they only fixed Jeffco’s Tier 1 needs. We still had hundreds of millions of dollars of Tier 2-5 needs for our schools and facilities, and even more urgent maintenance issues have built up in the last four years.

Part of the issue is that our schools are, on average, 45 years old. Plumbing, roofs, HVAC systems, windows, fire alarm systems, and more are aging and need to be replaced. Every single school in Jeffco needs some sort of maintenance.

You’ve probably also read that Jeffco Schools was testing for lead in school pipes recently. They found lead that exceeded federal standards in about 8 percent of the fixtures tested so far. Jeffco Schools is now taking steps to fix this, but it’s another indication that our schools are aging, and we need funding that can adequately address these critical maintenance issues.

What will the bond do?

  • Upgrade old schools with updated security systems
  • Provide new schools in areas where Jeffco is growing. Our school district has not had a bond to fund new construction since 2004 when voters approved a $323.8 million bond.
  • Allow the district to address the repair backlog of leaky roofs, faulty wiring and more by improving, updating, and repairing 110 schools, including updating technology and lab spaces.
  • Renovate and construct additions at 45 schools and facilities to add more classroom space
  • Replace four current aging facilities
  • Construct three new elementary schools.

You can read more about the bond outline here and read the final facilities master plan here.

Want to know how your school will benefit? Jeffco Schools has an interactive web page that allows you to access information about your child’s school, schools in your neighborhood, and schools that you might be considering in the future.

This is also a good time for the district to consider a bond. Bond interest rates are some of the lowest we’ve seen in the last several decades, making this a cost-effective time to borrow.

We’ve also heard people asking why we can’t just convince the state to provide more funding. The short answer is that we’ve petitioned our legislators to do just that for many years, session after session, and it’s not happening. Superintendents around the state have advocated, as in this 2014 letter.

This year, the superintendents sent another letter, and a rally was held at the state capitol where superintendents and school supporters alike filled the room to show support. This writer was at that rally. It didn’t work.

Eagle Schools Superintendent Jason Glass summarized the issue nicely in a recent column: 

To make a long story short, this “negative factor” cuts nearly $1 billion from Colorado’s schools annually and accounts for an accumulated $40 million in cuts to [Eagle County schools] alone.*

I’d like to say that Colorado is on its way toward restoring these cuts. Alas, the cavalry is not on the way from the state. The plain, cold reality is that without a local solution, our schools will never return to pre-recession levels.

*JCSBW note: that amount is about $80 million per year in Jeffco, for an accumulated $481 million in cuts so far.

What we can — and must — do is create our own solutions. In Jeffco, the cost is reasonable: $4.12 per month for every $100,000 of home value. For a $300,000 home, that’s about $150 a year to fund our school facilities and programming, and protect our home values.

We can support our Jeffco students by providing safe, well-maintained classrooms and buildings. We can make sure our Jeffco Schools continue to be some of the best in the area. We can make a better future for our students and our community.

3A3B

Also don’t forget to head over to Support Jeffco Schools to volunteer to help the Yes on 3A/3B campaign if you haven’t already.

JeffCo Proud!

 

9.11.15 Recall will be on November ballot & WNW surprises

If you attended or watched the Sept. 3 Jeffco School Board meeting, you may have heard something you never expected to hear: the three board majority members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have said they do not support raising taxes for schools, are thinking about raising your taxes.

We know!

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Here’s how that played out. Now a year later, the board majority had (yet another) discussion about where to build a school in the northwest Jeffco corridor. They have been considering three sites: Table Rock (Hwy 93 and 58th Ave), Leyden Rock or Candelas, and at the last meeting Witt was pushing pretty heavily for Leyden Rock, despite the reality that a school built at that site will seat less kids and take longer to build. The Sept. 3 meeting was a general meeting, so parents from NW Arvada came to comment, with some strongly advocating for Leyden Rock because, they argued, they’re growing faster than Candelas.

Newkirk opened the Sept. 3 discussion with a long, meandering and pointless preamble about how as elected officials they didn’t need to accept district recommendations. A few minutes later, he finally got to the point and made a motion for the district to build on the Leyden Rock site and for staff to begin soliciting bids to build a school with 625 seats in 24 months at that location.

Reality check: That’s not possible, at least not with the paltry $18 million the district designated for a school. Leyden Rock has some steep slopes that make designing and constructing a school more complex. Retaining walls and a lot of earth moving will be necessary in order to build, and the school will need a couple of building pads and at least one elevator. All in all, that makes for a construction premium of $3.5 million according to estimates, which leaves only $14.5 million for the school building itself. Between the limited budget and topography, Chief Operations Officer Steve Bell and Facilities Director Tim Reed estimate they will only be able to build a 450-seat school and it will take six months longer than construction at the other two sites.

Newkirk later asked if the issue was that companies wouldn’t make such a low bid, but Superintendent McMinimee pointed out that we are building schools to last. Remember the adage about fast, good, and cheap? You can only pick two.

The discussion was lengthy and painful, so I’ll skip to the highlights.

Highlight 1: McMinimee went to bat for his staff, and our hat is off to him for taking a stand. After Newkirk’s grandstanding and motion, McMinimee told the board he felt compelled to respond, and he defended his staff’s recommendations and estimates. He pointed out that the topic had been on the table for more than a year and that their original recommendation was to use Certificates of Participation to build a school and finish phase II at Sierra Elementary to relieve some of the pressure on surrounding schools.

McMinimee also noted that Jeffco was in the process of adding temporary buildings to West Woods Elementary this year, and that the growth issue is not only north of 82nd Avenue. If you missed it, you can catch McMinimee’s comments in the meeting video. You’ll want to scroll to about 2:52:45 in the video which is about where his comments begin.

Jill Fellman eventually called for the board to put Certificates of Participation back on on the table, but it was met with the usual argument from Williams that the issue should be put to a vote of the people. The option of a bond came up, and Newkirk said he would be “very open” to that possibility.

Witt did some grandstanding and claimed that the 2012 bond measure should have been larger and included money to build new schools, which was ridiculous considering that the economy still was weak in 2012 and more to the point: he didn’t even support the very small amount that was needed to keep our students warm, safe and dry and has been trying to take that money and use it elsewhere since he was elected.

Highlight 2: Dahlkemper made the motion to direct staff to present a comprehensive bond scenario for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot, and the motion passed 5-0.

Then there was another painful discussion about whether the district should build the K-8 recommended by the district at Candelas, or just a K-6 because Witt thinks that’s the real growth issue (or something). It was another conversation that was quite confusing, not least because it takes two years to build a school and children will age toward middle school during that time. Finally they agreed to push off the decision about grade configuration until the next meeting, which provides staff some time to put together a presentation about the benefits of each scenario.

School Safety

School safety was another topic, largely because the district’s safety office is stretched to the limit. Suicide assessments are up 600 percent over the last two years. There were also 281 threats last year, which is a 100 percent increase. Safe2Tell fielded more than 700 reports in which Jeffco students reported a friend in crisis requiring immediate help, and 44,091 calls for assistance were made from schools to security asking for help.

Jeffco has 11 patrol officers and 3 management team members to respond to calls. Our law enforcement agencies also provide School Resource Officers–36 of them–at no charge to the district. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the $1.3 million budget they have is not sufficient given the increase in threats and suicide assessments. They need more money.

School Based Budgeting (SBB)

There was a brief report on school based budgeting. The short version is that they are hearing positive comments from principals who have more flexibility to provide resources based on student needs. They also looked at the number of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

Here’s the point to remember: the number of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten appears to have increased, but the number of schools offering free full-day kindergarten has decreased from 40 to 32. We’ll know more after the district has an official count later this fall.

Recall to be on the Nov. 3 ballot!

Jeffco United for Action received great news last week after the Jeffco County Clerk said she’s confident the recall can be part of the November general election ballot. There are a few hurdles remaining, but the news is really good. For the full story, check out Chalkbeat’s analysis here.

Now It’s Your Turn

With only a few weeks until the mail-in ballots arrive, we all need to pitch in and help. You can:

https://www.facebook.com/Amanda-for-Jeffco-Schools-604780212991553/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/Ali-Lasell-for-Jeffco-421746884684406/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/bradforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/susanforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ronforjeffcokids

  • Walk doors with Jeffco United to educate Jeffco voters about why we need to recall Witt, Newkirk and Williams. You can sign up to walk this Saturday during one of the morning, afternoon or evening shifts, or at any of the multiple other days in September and October.
  • Post a yard sign supporting the recall. Information about getting a sign is posted on their Facebook page.

We need to get the word out and that takes all of us. Any little bit helps, so walking just one shift, donating another $5 or $10 to a campaign, and spreading the word. We don’t want another two years without the respect, accountability and transparency that Jeffco deserves. Our students, our schools and all of us deserve better. Let’s make sure everyone knows it and votes to recall WNW on Nov. 3.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

8.27.15 BOE meeting tonight!

school-crossing

Yes, it’s that time again. It would appear the Jeffco School Board has finally finalized the meeting agenda, which has been modified more than once in the past few days. Here’s what you have to look forward to tonight:

 

– 2.01 Resolution: Negotiated Agreement–Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) (EL-3)

JCEA’s membership ratified the agreement, so now it goes to a school board vote. Based on what we’re seeing further north in the Thompson School District, there’s plenty of good reason to suspect that Witt, Newkirk and Williams (WNW for those new to the school board majority shenanigans this year) had no intention of working out a tentative agreement, much less approving one. With the recall mechanisms in motion, however, perhaps they’re more incentivized than usual?

There’s a lot to not like (i.e., a ridiculously short 10-month contract and the money that will be spent to negotiate another contract next year). And yet there are some protections for class sizes and other important issues in place–which is always important for a group of ideologues who are convinced that 40 or 45 kids in a classroom is actually an ideal situation for kids.

2.02 Review of Board Committees (GP-12, 13)

This appears to be more monkeying around with SPAC, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council, who WNW appear to have been targeting since they took office. SPAC has been functioning as the state-mandated district accountability committee and the district’s lawyer and Superintendent McMinimee have confirmed that it meets the law’s requirements. Nevertheless, WNW want that committee under their thumb and this may be another move in that direction.

2.03 Facilities Planning Preview (EL-8, 11)

This item was listed on Monday morning without attached documents, removed, and since has been replaced on the agenda. (We know!)

This is one of multiple presentations the board has heard since August 2014 about the growing population in north Jeffco. It’s an issue that primarily affects the northwest Arvada area but is also affecting nearly all the Jeffco Schools north of I-70, as Steve Bell pointed out in one of his presentations last spring–and to which north Jeffco parents can testify.

The issue is due to a couple of factors, including the number of new housing developments: Leyden Rock, Candelas, Whisper Creek, and also smaller amounts of construction on what used to be small farms around Arvada, like the area just to the east of Majestic View Park near 72nd and Kipling.

A second factor is that Sierra Elementary in Arvada was due for phase 2 of a remodeling and expansion project, but the bond to move that project forward was on the 2008 bond referendum, which failed. Sierra families have brought this issue to the board repeatedly in past years, but WNW have ignored them. Completing phase 2 would add more seats to the area, but there are no plans to do that.

The third factor is that two schools in the Arvada/Westminster area were closed in 2012 as the district grappled with budget cuts. One of those now houses the Head Start program–and that will continue because Westminster tore down the building that Head Start had been using (also due to budget cuts which meant a lack of money to do the necessary maintenance and repairs to the aging structure). The other was Zerger Elementary, which remains unused. It has been suggested repeatedly as a possible option to deal with the growing number of students, but Bell said the building was stripped when they closed it down.

Reopening Zerger would require replacing not only the usual classroom furniture, but also chalkboards, projectors, and more. The school is also located about six miles away from Candelas, so if the plan was to send children from the area to Zerger, they would have a lengthy bus ride–assuming that parents chose to fork over the $150 for bus service.

Suffice it to say that no one is championing reopening Zerger, temporarily or otherwise, including Williams who continues to suggest that the district use an empty retail building, like a grocery store as a new school. (Fact check: the Leyden Rock and Candelas areas were empty fields before the housing developments were constructed. There are no empty grocery stores nearby, so it’s not exactly a feasible plan.)

What we do know: the board set aside $18 million to build a school, and it’s unlikely that WNW will budget from that number no matter what. We’ll try to post a review of the Certificates of Participation and construction costs issue in the district in the next couple of weeks.

2.04 Montessori Peaks Academy (EL-10, 13)

Last spring, a Jeffco family brought a number of issues regarding Montessori Peaks to the attention of the board. This item revisits the district’s investigation into the matter.

The meeting will be streamed, and the district is telling us this is the link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

The meeting starts at 5:30 pm in the board room on the 5th floor of the Education Building (1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO). If you can’t be there tonight, please join us virtually on the live stream.

Don’t like what you see tonight? Write the board, sign up for public comment at the Sept. 3 meeting, and never forget:

Keep fighting, JeffCo!