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!

Jeffco 3A & 3B Basics: Understanding the Mill Levy Override

3A3B

This fall, we’re going to post a series of articles explaining the basics of the mill levy override and bond, 3A and 3B, so you can understand how the board members came to their decisions. We support both measures.

Today, we’d like to spell out the basics of 3A, the mill levy override.

Funding — or lack thereof —is the primary driver. The short version is that state funding is a big challenge. Due to the negative factor, Jeffco Schools has received $481 million less from Colorado than was supposed to be budgeted.

NegativeFactor

Jeffco is also not receiving any of the marijuana money that was budgeted. That’s going to other districts, mostly small and rural, for facility maintenance and construction.

Several forecasts also suggest Jeffco Schools could be facing more cuts for 2017-18. If that happens, 3A dollars will be used first to backfill those cuts and maintain programs.

The mill levy override, 3A, would provide an additional $33 million in funding that would benefit all Jeffco Schools: neighborhood, option, and charter.

It will be split so that Jeffco neighborhood and options schools receive $29.7 million, and charter schools receive 10 percent, $3.3 million. Those numbers mirror the percent of Jeffco students enrolled in neighborhood, option, and charter schools.

If state funding remains stable, the $33 million will be used to expand learning opportunities, update security, and to retain and attract excellent teachers. Here’s what the board prioritized in their meetings this summer:

  • $12.6 million – compensation to retain and recruit excellent teachers
  • $3.7 million – mental health support for schools, including a half-time counselor at every elementary school
  • $800,000 – additional support for security and emergency management, including increasing personnel, supporting ongoing crisis prevention and intervention training programs, support supplies, and software purchases
  • $12.2 million – increased Student Based Budgeting funding in all schools, including extra support for small schools who are challenged by the current SBB process. This will allow schools the flexibility to enhance education for their students.
  • $400,000 – increased support services, like the additional custodians and supplies that will be needed when the new schools open, and additional district building techs
  • The remaining $3.3 million will go to charter schools, whose boards will decide how to allocate the funds to enhance teaching, programming, and more.

You can read more about the mill levy override priorities here and read the full ballot text here.

Together, 3A and 3B will cost $4.12 per month for every $100,000 of home value. For a $300,000 home, that’s about $150 a year.

We’ve waited a long time for state funding to bounce back after the economy recovered. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s not going to happen.

Now we have a choice. We can create our own solutions and vote to support our Jeffco students in safe, well-maintained classrooms and buildings. We can vote to provide funding that allows us to attract and retain excellent teachers. We can make a difference.

Vote yes on 3A and 3B, and remember to tell your friends. Spreading the word on your social media of choice also helps, so please share this post.

We’d also like to remind everyone that the Yes on 3A and 3B campaign need volunteers to help in the coming weeks, as well as donations to help pay for signs and other campaign materials. If you can help, please head over to the Support Jeffco Schools website and sign up there.

Jeffco Proud!

4.6.16 The AFP is at it again & quick 4/7 BOE meeting preview

This will be a brief update, as all of our writers are currently swamped with other things. We know we owe you a summary of the last couple of meetings and we will have that for you as soon as humanely possible.

However, we wanted to bring your attention to some news uncovered by our friends at Jeffco Citizens for Responsible Education. They noticed that a number of emails regarding the use of Certificates of Participation (COPs) had been sent to the board. The vast majority of those in opposition were one of two form letters. Jeffco CRE followed that trail a bit further, right to the door of Americans for Prosperity, who conveniently set up a webpage so that people could submit a form letter to the board through their website.

Screenshot 2016-04-03 15.33.08

We agree with Jeffco CRE when they write “Colorado is a local control state for a reason.  Outside special interest groups should stop sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.” Indeed.

In addition, there’s a board meeting this Thursday, April 7.

Highlights

Can’t attend? Stream the meeting live at this link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

JeffCo Proud!

 

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 1

It’s been longer than we’d like since we’ve posted summary versions of the meetings, but we’d like to bring you up to date about what’s been happening with the Jeffco School Board in the past few months. The short version is that the vast majority of board members’ time has been spent immersing themselves in the intricate details of the district so that they’re familiar with the processes and facts of the various elements involved before they make decisions.

With that in mind, this post will be split into two main sections: first, 1) board actions, and then 2) other board work, as we summarize what they’ve been doing since their November elections.

Jeffco BOE Actions, Nov. 2015 – February 2016

Returned $15 million slotted for Candelas K-6 construction to the General Fund (1/14/16)

The decision by the previous board to pull $15 million from the general fund to construct a new school had been a major point of contention last year for a number of reasons all outlined in previous posts. This vote puts the money back into the general fund. Note that no plans have been made for those dollars yet. Board members stated they intend to hold that money and wait to see what happens with the 2016-17 budget before making any decisions on those dollars.

Approved Certificates of Participation (COPs) for Candelas K-8 and Sierra Phase II (1/14/16)

This required three votes: one to approve moving ahead with the Candelas site as a K-8 school (as previously had been recommended by the district) rather than as a smaller K-6 school with a planned addition at some point in the future; one to approve the use of COPs to finance construction at Candelas; and, one to approve the use of COPs to finance phase II of construction at Sierra Elementary. These three votes also required a great deal of discussion, both at previous study sessions and during the meeting, and featured the board’s first split vote.

The board heard a two-hour presentation during the 12/17/15 study session to learn about the facilities process and asked questions about specific issues throughout the county. Many board members had also heard the many facilities presentations that had been given since August 2014 on the issue, though all benefited from the updated information and opportunity to ask questions that previous board members had not.

The first vote to reconfigure the Candelas plan to a K-8 and use COPs to fund construction was unanimous, though it followed another intense round of discussion and questions about the benefits of a K-8 and the cost effectiveness involved. (Short answer: it’s more cost-effective for construction costs and for daily operating costs.) There was also a lot of discussion regarding how flexible COPs would be for meeting budget and construction needs. (Short answer: they can be paid off at any time. The board could, for example, take the $15 million they’d just moved back to the general fund and vote to use it to pay a large portion of the COP.)

The second vote to use COPs to finance Sierra Phase II construction was preceded by the same intense conversation and questioning. Several board members had visited Sierra to see the conditions first-hand and all were appalled. However, as board member Amanda Stevens pointed out, Sierra is not the only school with significant facilities issues. She, like the others, prefers to use a bond to finance school construction; Stevens was concerned about committing general fund dollars to paying a portion of COPs in tight financial times. In the end, the vote was 4/1 with Stevens voting against the motion. She said her vote was not at all a vote against the Sierra community (and we’ll note that it was clear the motion would pass by the time Stevens voted), but that she really wants the board to address facilities issues district-wide through a bond issue this November.

To keep this summary from being any longer, we invite you to read the news coverage here and here for more details about the discussions surrounding the three votes.

CASB Membership Renewal (2/4/16)

Jeffco had been a long-time member of the Colorado Association of School Boards, informally known as CASB, until last year when three former board members refused to renew that membership. The new board members took time to get to know CASB’s work, the training opportunities it offered, and other benefits, such as legal advice, plus the work CASB does to influence education policy on the state level, and voted unanimously to approve the board’s membership renewal.

Added Members to the District Accountability Committee (2/4/16)

Last fall, the former board approved changes to split the roles of the former Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) between two committees: a District Accountability Committee (DAC) and a new SPAC that would limit its work to strategic planning and not to the accountability work required by state statute. However, our readers will also remember that the former board directed that the new DAC be a board committee, with membership subject to board approval. In the process, they also cut seats previously held by Jeffco PTA and by CSEA (Jeffco’s Classified School Employees Association), among others.

In February, board members added slots to include these and other stakeholder groups, so the new membership looks like this:

  • One parent representative from a school-level accountability team (SAC) from each articulation area (17)
  • Charter school SAC parent representatives (3)
  • Option school SAC parent representative (1)
  • Jeffco Schools teachers, with effort made to represent each grade band: K-5, 6-8, 9-12. JCEA may recommend individuals, and both members and non-members of JCEA are eligible (1-3)
  • Jeffco Schools building-level administrator (1-3)
  • Parent-at-large representatives (up to 10, with efforts made to represent the diversity of stakeholders)
  • Business community representative (at least 1)
  • Jeffco PTA member (1)
  • Jeffco Schools classified staff representative. Both CSEA members and non-members are eligible, and CSEA may recommend individuals (1)
  • Superintendent

Expansion of Two Roads Charter School Contract (2/4/16)

Jeffco Schools has offered a blended learning/online program for elementary school students as part of its Jefferson Virtual Academy (JVA). However, the K-5 program has not met its targeted enrollment and funding doesn’t support continuing the program. Two Roads Charter School expressed interest in taking over the program to continue it for participating and interested families, but was prevented from doing so by their current contract – the standard Jeffco Schools charter contract prohibits charters from offering online programs.

The board discussed amending the contract for Two Roads to take over the K-5 blended/online program during a study session on 1/28/16, and then voted to approve the move at the 2/4/16 meeting.

Expanded Bradford K-6 to a K-8 program (12/10/15)

This vote garnered some criticism, largely because it’s not entirely clear that the move had the support of all stakeholders. The Bradford community was highly supportive of the move to expand the program to include 7th and 8th grade programming, and the district supported the move because it was made with the requirement that the program be capped at 90 students per grade. That cap will avoid any need for building expansion in the future and limits the impact on the feeder schools in the Chatfield articulation area. District officials said the move had the support of principals at those feeder schools, though others noted that those principals did not attend the board meeting to speak to the issue one way or another. School Accountability Committees at feeder schools may not have been consulted either.

This issue was sprung on the board (and the at-large Jeffco community) out of the blue by district staff. Board members questioned district staff carefully about whether the administration at the feeder schools that would be affected supported the proposal. Staff told the board members that they did, so we can hardly fault the board members for doing their due diligence or for wanting to make the decision before the first round of choice-enrollment opened in January. That said, we’d also encourage board members to think about whether a board policy requiring the district to provide a certain amount of notice to the board before bringing an issue for a vote might be in their favor so that there is time to have more discussion before taking action. However, we’ll also note that when it came to expanding the online program at Two Roads (above), board members were quick to make sure there was a study session to discuss options before bringing it to a vote for the next meeting, so that’s a huge step toward respecting process and community engagement.

View our next post for specifics regarding negotiations with JCEA, and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Jeffco Proud!

Preview of School Board Meeting Preview for January 14, 2016

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, January 14th, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream. Prior to the 5 pm meeting, students from Arvada High School’s orchestra kick off the evening with a 5 pm performance.

During the first hour of the meeting, the board will hear from the district Human Resources leadership team on employee compensation strategies, workforce issues and recent decisions. In looking at the team’s presentation, we are struck by the “We Are Jeffco” slide (slide 4) where it specifically calls attention to Jeffco’s 5,690 “effective educators.” We’re wondering why it isn’t just labeled “educators” or broken down into highly effective, partially effective, effective, etc.

Also, it’s interesting to see that total salary and benefits for Jeffco staff lags inflation by 7%! Slide 14 of the presentation is just heartbreaking — where classroom teacher turnover dropped in Boulder, Cherry Creek, DougCo and Littleton, there was a frightening spike in turnover in Jeffco. We’ve got to turn that trend around! District leadership asks a great question: “are we able to attract and retain quality staff?” Jeffco uses EPI (Educators Professional Inventory) for all licensed classroom positions. This teacher selection tool predicts an applicant’s potential impact on student achievement.

In addition, there’s a presentation about Jeffco’s Strategic Compensation pilot, but too little time for a full discussion. The pilot looked at whether additional compensation for educators makes a difference in student achievement and evaluated which supports for teachers and principals have the greatest impact on student achievement. The findings show students do better when they have better (higher rated) teachers.

Things that affect teacher quality include strong leaders/shared leadership, collaboration, professional learning communities, and rigorous evaluations with growth-focused feedback and associated professional development. The presentation doesn’t address the role of compensation.

We hope the board asks for more information about this piece. We think the key is offering a competitive wage and an innovative, collaborative, supportive work environment. The strategic compensation pilot has been extended for a year with six elementary schools and two middle schools serving as learning model schools.

Next up: honors and recognitions. Kudos to students from D’Evelyn, West Jeff Middle, Arvada West High, and staff from Jeffco’s North Area Athletic Complex.

We’re also thrilled a former practice has been reinstated: board members sharing information on board work and/or activities they participated in since the prior regular board meeting. We know the new board members have been very active since taking office and look forward to hearing their updates. (One caveat: please stick to the summary versions if the meeting has a long agenda.)

Correspondence since the last meeting includes many letters regarding Bradford Elementary’s change from K-6 to K-8. In addition, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee urges the board to address growth (Phase II of Sierra Elementary, K-8 at 58th Avenue and Hwy 93), plus overcrowding and aging facilities across the district.

To address the board about an agenda item, sign up here. One highlight on the consent agenda: Jeffco only lost one more teacher compared to resignations for the same period last year. We hope the tides are turning. Also, we appear to have a new Chief Communications Officer – Diana Wilson – officially starting Jan. 19. She holds an MBA from CU Denver and has worked for the past two years for the Westminster Fire Department. We very much look forward to seeing Jeffco Schools move forward with a fully-functioning communications department again.

The board will also discuss the process to complete Superintendent McMinimee’s summative evaluation for the 2014/2015 school year and goals for this school year (15/16), which will be based on the district goals (ends) set by the board. The board has discussed revisions to district goals, but have not arrived at a revised set of goals. When will this occur?

The first item in the discussion agenda is a resolution pertaining to the $15M underspend (largely from unfilled positions) that was going to be used by the prior board to fund the construction of the new school at Candelas. This resolution would authorize the return of that $15M from the Capital Reserve Fund to the General Fund, and this resolution acknowledges that the transfer will not result in an on-going deficit. But there doesn’t seem to be any further discussion or vote regarding what will be done with the $15M. Will it be allocated as recommended by staff, with $5M as a one-time compensation to staff and the remaining $10M to be held in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/17? Or are there other budget issues that weren’t addressed, including the request from Jeffco’s security department last fall, that might also benefit from these funds?

Next, there’s recommendation to construct a K-8 school instead of a K-6 school at the Candelas site. This was previously part of the discussion, but WNW chose to ignore it and approve only a K-6 for reasons we never fully understood. We’re happy to see a return to the district’s recommendation for a K-8 structure that will better address projected enrollment and make the most of Jeffco’s construction dollars on this project.

There’s also a recommendation to use of Certificates of Participation (COPs), or other means of financing, in order to move forward with the much-needed construction of Phase II of Sierra Elementary School, which will provide seating capacity for an additional 250 students.

Finally, the Board will discuss rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB). Mr. McMinimee has previously recommended this action and we expect a vote to rejoin.

The final major agenda items are review of policies pertaining to asset protection (EL-7); the school calendar (EL-14); and governance process, ends, executive limitations, and board/staff linkage. Only two minutes are allotted for this last item so we don’t expect to hear the board discuss revisions to Ends (district goals), but we do expect to hear more about Ends in the near future.

Jeffco Proud!