Jeffco 3A & 3B Basics: Big Year for Mill & Bond Elections

Continuing our series on why the Jeffco School Board is asking for a mill and bond this year, today’s post focuses on the bigger picture — what other districts are doing to address Colorado’s education funding shortage.

We’ll give you a hint – ballot measures for mill levy overrides and bonds are on the ballot in more than 50 districts around our state. Denver, Aurora and Jeffco combined are seeking over $1.4 billion in bonds alone, and across the state, school funding ballot initiatives top $4 billion.

One big factor: our state’s “negative factor,” which says the state can give schools less funding than actually mandated by Colorado’s school funding formula. The Colorado School Finance Project believes this approach has plummeted Colorado’s per-pupil spending to 40th in the US, when we should be closer to 28th if the negative factor funds were actually given to our school districts. Without this funding, school districts across Colorado struggle to offer competitive salaries and maintain their buildings.

Here in Jeffco, hiring salaries are below the average of the five most comparable nearby districts – sometimes as much as 16% lower. In the last few years, Jeffco’s teacher turnover has steadily risen,  and our current school board has made it clear that they want Jeffco to be the first choice for the best teachers.

This year, our board used one-time dollars to provide modest pay increases for employees. That compensation level can only continue if the mill levy override passes.

The 3A mill dollars will also ensure increased mental health support for schools, increased security, increased Student Based Budgeting funding for all schools, increased support services, and equitable allocations to all charter schools. This ensures Jeffco students will receive the education necessary to prepare them for college and careers. And these dollars will stay in Jeffco.

Jeffco also has significant and growing maintenance and improvement needs at its 155 schools. Should the bond pass, 110 schools will receive much-needed improvements, technology updates, repairs and lab upgrades. Additionally, 45 schools and facilities will receive long-overdue renovations and additions, including new classroom space – something that has not been added since the 2004 bond passed. And, four schools will be replaced and three new elementary schools built.

Some are asking why maintenance on existing schools has been deferred so long. Quite simply, funding has fallen far short of the level it needs to be to offer competitive salaries and maintain schools. Funding has been so inadequate that Jeffco has fallen farther behind our neighboring districts in compensation while also deferring growing maintenance needs in order to protect funds going to classrooms.

Jeffco is not alone in this funding crisis – which is why we see 50 districts around our state asking voters to approve additional resources  Of the seven largest districts in Colorado, six have funding initiatives on the November ballot.

Jeffco, with 86,000 students, is asking for a total of $568 million – and has not had money to spend on new square footage in schools since 2004. That’s 12 years!

Denver, with more than 90,000 students, is asking for $628 million – that’s on top of the nearly $1 billion Denver voters have already approved over the past 8 years.

Cherry Creek has about 55,000 students, and is asking voters to approve $273.9 million in new funding. Cherry Creek voters also approved $150 million four years ago.

Aurora, with about 42,000 students, hopes voters will approve $350 million.

Boulder, with about 31,000 students, has reached funding caps, but can ask voters for an additional $10 million under the newly passed Debt Free Schools Act.

Rounding out the seven largest districts, Adams 12 Five Star, with just under 40,000 students, hopes for an additional $350 million, and Douglas County, with nearly 67,000 students, is still considering options.

For our visual learners, here’s a table comparing the ballot measures of several districts. 2016 Mill Bond Comparisons

2016 Mill Bond Comparisons Graphic1

2016 Mill Bond Comparisons Graphic2
This November, communities across our state will be asked to shore up their local schools to ensure the best education and opportunities for their students.
Poudre School District Board President Cathy Kipp speaks for all these communities when she writes,
The alternative to this plan is not pretty. It involves expensive temporary solutions, which come straight out of the school district’s general fund and negatively impact the education of all our students. This is the way schools are built and maintained in Colorado, by the will of our voters.
Here in Jeffco, voting Yes on 3A/3B will mean safe, well-maintained classrooms and buildings. It will mean ensuring our Jeffco Schools continue to be some of the best in the area. It will mean a better future for our students and our community.

3A3B

To volunteer to help the Yes on 3A/3B campaign, visit Support Jeffco Schools. And please pass along this information so more voters have the facts.

JeffCo Proud!

6.10.15 – We need you at Thursday’s BOE meeting

The June 11 Jeffco School Board meeting is the final budget hearing for the 2015/16 budget. We need you there. Why? To make sure the board keeps its priorities straight.

Some of the main issues this year?

1. We need to finance new schools in the west Lakewood and northwest Arvada area. WNW has consistently refused to approve Certificates of Participation, despite the recommendations of district staff and McMinimee himself.

Julie Williams wants the district to build a modular school in the NW Arvada area, despite McMinimee’s point that a similar school in Douglas County, was cheaper because it was built during the recession when building costs were down and which, notably, has needed considerable repairs during that time. John Newkirk thinks the district can convince the developers to enter a new era of partnership in which they also donate money or other services to help build a school. (McMinimee’s response [slightly paraphrased]: “In my experience, the developers see their contribution as the land they already donated to the district.”) Ken Witt is hostile to the idea of debt, as is Newkirk, who likened debt to a fire extinguisher behind glass that says “break in case of emergency.” (That comment reveals so much privilege and so little experience of the real lives of the Jeffco taxpayers, doesn’t it? One might also suspect that they were big supporters of 2010’s Amendment 61 — one of the “bad 3,” all of which were voted down 2-1 by Colorado voters.)

The BOE voted to allocate $15 million of unallocated dollars for a new school, but as we’ve pointed out, $15 million won’t build a $25 million school (the district’s estimate). Where’s the other $10 million coming from? Who knows!

What they should do: approve the COPs and free up that $15 million for compensation, reserves, and classrooms. Their priorities are our children, not their high-handed ideals about how all debt is bad and new schools can just be built by cutting the budget.

2. Put more money into facilities and reserves. Instead, thanks to the $15 million that will only build part of a school, we’re putting less into reserves. It’s something, but its insufficient. Remember, we pulled heavily from reserves when the budget cuts hit. We need to build them up before the next round, which is forecast for 2017 or so. Reserve funds also affect our credit rating, which in turn gives us better interest rates on existing bonds and for any bonds the district might pursue in the future.

Facilities maintenance has also been neglected for a number of years. Some of the $15 million should be allocated back to facilities where it belongs.

3. Teacher compensation is without a doubt our number one priority. The district has made some increases available, though a large portion is eaten up by PERA and ACA increases. Another portion was allocated to increasing compensation for new hires and hard-to-fill positions like speech pathologists. Unfortunately, despite the district’s emphasis that more money would need to be available in order to equalize salaries for veteran teachers, WNW’s response has been “maybe next year.” A small increase of 1 percent is available as JCEA and the district continuing negotiating, but that amount isn’t likely to be distributed evenly (see: performance pay) and isn’t nearly enough to equalize salaries with the newcomers.

Yes, you read that right: salaries for new hires with the same years of experience and same education would be higher than the salaries of our veteran teachers who agreed to the pay freeze during the rejection and have stuck with us while we all waited for the economy to improve.

At the May 26 meeting — the first budget hearing — they had a chance to change that. They didn’t. Newkirk said he’d like to, but maybe next year because the budget money has already been allocated (see #1, above).

The board majority doesn’t care about retaining our excellent Jeffco teachers.

Do you?

If so, it’s time to speak up. Be there: June 11, 6:30 pm. (Come at 5:30 if you’d like to hear about the strategic plan and Acuity results during the study session.) You can sign up to comment on the agenda here or for the budget hearing here. Have a comment about a topic not on the agenda? Click here to sign up for public comment part 2.

Here’s a basic summary of the budget changes to-date:

  • a proposed 1% compensation increase
  • an additional staff-recommended $1.152M compensation increase for targeted employees (principals, assistant principals, hard-to-fill teacher positions and master’s degree recognition for teachers),
  • a $763k substitute teacher pay increase
  • a $2.014M increase in student-based budget (SBB) funding for neighborhoods schools
  • $3M transfer to reserve
  • $186k increase for charter school mill levy override equalization

There’s plenty more going on. For those events, we’ll link you to the posts from our friends at Support Jeffco Kids for news about a new marketing and communications hire (sneak peak: she’s been working for the Independence Institute and loves those vouchers!), Communication Chief Lisa Pinto’s resigntation, last weekend’s rally in Jeffco, and more.

Can’t make it to the meeting? Please write the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us and tell them what you think.

The meeting will be streamed live (we hope) at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Keep fighting, JeffCo!