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:
Without 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.
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.
- Improve educational opportunities for sixth grade students by moving them to middle school. This also makes better use of existing classroom space.
- 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.
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.
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.