Jeffco Schools mill & bond will be on November ballot

Our original post noted that the increase would be $3.50 per $100,000 assessed value. That number was based on previous projections, so we’ve corrected the numbers in this post to reflect what was approved on Tuesday night: $4.12 per $100,000.

On Tuesday, the Jeffco School Board approved a motion to put the mill and bond on the November ballot. The ballot question will ask voters to approve a bond package totaling $535 million dollars, and a mill levy override of $33 million.

Your Childs Education

Also note that we’ve seen some suggestions that this is a “billion dollar bond,” mostly from groups that have struggled in the past to grasp basic math concepts about the Jeffco Schools budget. This is a $535 million bond — just over half a billion — to address aging facilities and fund new construction.

Our friend Tina Gurdikian sent out a newsletter about the topics, and agreed to let us reprint it to explain more about the mill and bond. We’ve cut some portions that refer to the then-upcoming Tuesday meeting.

“Architects of Our Own Solutions” – Jeffco BOE Treasurer, Brad Rupert said this at tonight’s board meeting and I jotted it down ’cause I thought – that pretty much sums it up for me too. We can’t sit back and wait for the state to come through with the funding we need to provide an education for our kiddos that prepares them to be college/career ready. It’s way too late for that, and it just simply isn’t going to happen. Since 2009, when the “negative factor” was implemented, Jeffco Schools have missed out on ~$490 MILLION – and we don’t see an end to the negative factor any time soon, unfortunately. So what are we going to do about it? We are going to be architects of our own solutions!!

Here are a few of the details of the proposed bond issue:

  • This is an “extremely favorable interest rate environment” – meaning we can get an excellent interest rate. Typically when you buy a home, you’re told that the actual principal/interest you’ll pay over the life of your loan is 2-3 times the cost of the home. Jeffco can get a rate such that our principal/interest payments are less than 2 times the principal for a term of 25 years.
  • This would be a $535M bond with a maximum principal/interest repayment of $987.22M – with a not-to-exceed annual principal/interest payment of $72.6M annually in any given year.
  • Essentially we are looking at 4 primary priorities with this bond package:
    • Priority 1 – K-5, 6-8 grade reconfiguration
    • Priority 2 – growth and/or equity
    • Priority 3 – efficiencies
    • Priority 4 – deferred maintenance
  • What do these priorities mean exactly? You can see the breakout of the proposed capital improvement projects by area and school here so you can see the direct impacts to your children’s schools.

What about the $33M mill levy override? The mill levy override (MLO) is an annual increase to address operational needs (as a result of the negative factor and decreased funding in per pupil revenue from the state), whereas the bond addresses capital/facilities needs. Page 4 gives a great description of the needs to be addressed by the MLO, but I’ll sum up:

  • $12.6M – to retain and attract the best and brightest teachers, administrators and staff
  • $3.7M (this is something I feel so strongly about) – to provide a half-time counselor for every elementary school
  • $800K – for security and emergency management
  • $12.2M – increase student-based budgeting (SBB) dollars to schools, especially smaller school hit the hardest by SBB.
  • $400K – additional support services needed for the new school at Candelas
  • $3.3M – charter school dollars for compensation, curriculum, technology, etc. (10% of the MLO)

So what does this mean for you and your bottom line? Support Jeffco Kids broke it down for us. Per $100,000 of assessed home value, this bond package and MLO – combined – would cost you…$4.12/month. That’s right – if you’re home’s value is $300,000, you’re looking at an increase of $12.36 month.

This is how I, personally, see this. Our daughters swim. A lot. And if your child has ever been on a swim team, you know that breakfast burritos are what EVERYONE eats at a swim meet – considering these crazy summer meets start with warm-ups at 6am! Our team sells burritos for $3.50 each. So to me, it’s like buying a few breakfast burritos a month, right? Are my kids worth it? Heck yeah!

Are your kids worth it? Heck yeah! Remember, it takes a village to raise a child – we are all in this together – whether you have kids or grandkids or none at all, the value of excellent public schools is priceless for a community! Seriously!

Support Jeffco Kids has been really busy this summer. Please check out the following articles they’ve published recently, which shed additional light on some of the issues around the need for the mill/bond:

Lead Contamination?

While I’m talking about facilities needs, let me touch on the other topic of discussion at tonight’s board meeting – contaminated drinking water. Jeffco staff have been very busy this summer testing fixtures in our schools for lead contamination.

Since June 3, the district has tested 80 elementary schools and drawn ~3,500 samples in an effort to ensure drinking water in our schools is safe for our students, staff and parents. By the time school starts, all elementary school fixtures in buildings built before 1990 and all water fountains in elementary schools built after 1990 will have been tested.

Any fixtures found to exceed the 15 parts per billion EPA limit for Lead will be deactivated or labeled “Do Not Drink” depending on the level of Lead detected. While testing of middle and high school fixtures will not be complete by the start of the school year, district staff will work with principals to get the word out to parents to let them know the status of the testing. Bottled water may be provided at older facilities where fixtures have a greater probability of higher Lead levels.

Again, just another example of the types of maintenance district staff face with our aging facilities. 

 

We’ve waited long for additional state money, and it’s not coming. Jeffco needs to find its own solutions to long-deferred maintenance issues and so much more.

 

Let’s continue to be

JeffCo Proud! Keep fighting, JeffCo!

Special Jeffco BOE meetings: July 28 & August 2

UpdateDear readers,

It’s hard to believe it’s almost August—which means it’s time for the Jeffco School Board members to start making decisions about a mill and bond issue for the November ballot.

They are holding two special meetings to gather public input on a mill and bond:

  • Thursday, July 28, 5:30 pm
  • Tuesday, Aug. 2, 5:30 pm

Thursday’s meeting is your first opportunity to comment on the proposed mill and bond and it will be followed a board discussion about potential ballot language and priorities for a $33 million mill levy override would fund and a $535 million bond package. If you want to sign up to speak on July 28, follow this link.

The Aug. 2 meeting will also allow the community to comment and ask questions, and will be followed by a vote to approve the ballot language. Public comment signup for that meeting will open on Thursday morning.

At issue is this ugly reality: state budget cuts. Jeffco has received $481 million less from Colorado than was supposed to be budgeted during the last five years, and more budget cuts are projected. Despite this, we need to support our students and teachers in safe, well-maintained schools.

Jeffco Schools staff started to look for solutions this spring when they put together a proposed master plan, some of which aims at creating facility efficiencies to free up money for classrooms. Staff then presented the plan at multiple community meetings and gathered feedback late this spring. That community feedback was incorporated into the plan and informed the priorities for the proposed bond package.

At those meetings, two messages were very clear:

  • Jeffco values its small neighborhood schools and wants to avoid closures or consolidations
  • The community is open to the idea of moving to K-5, 6-8 configurations to free up space in already-crowded elementary schools, but the new reconfiguration needs to be implemented district-wide.

The revised plan, and proposed bond, prioritizes these issues.

We’ll write more in the coming days, but for now, please keep these issues in mind:

  • The 2012 bond fixed the most urgent repair needs to keep our students warm, safe and dry, and did so within budget. However, continuing state budget cuts have caused a growing backlog of repairs, including leaky roofs, faulty wiring, and out-dated fire alarms.
  • The average Jeffco Schools building is 45 years old. Replacing dated and inefficient HVAC systems, boilers, and plumbing could save the district tens of thousands of dollars on utility bills.
  • Jeffco must continue to attract and retain excellent teachers, and continue the district’s commitment to high academic standards and accountability — but when other districts pay as much as 19 percent more, we’re quickly losing our ability to be competitive.
  • We must provide students the skills and technology necessary to prepare them for 21st-century jobs.
  • We must address the growing mental health needs in our schools with more counselors and in-school mental health programs.

We urge you to please attend the July 28 or August 2 meeting to tell the Jeffco School Board what you will support so they can make an informed decision. They want and need to hear from us.

And as always, you can stream the meeting: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Jeffco Proud!

 

 

5.2.16 Jeffco Schools Facilities Master Plan Summary

lakwoodAt the end of April, staff presented an updated facilities master plan to the school board at a study session. First, we want to emphasize that the board has not voted on the plan, nor is it planning to finalize any of the recommendations soon.

What is happening is this: staff are now hosting a series of meetings around the district to explain the reasoning behind the plan, answer questions about details of the plan, and collect feedback from parents. The communications department staff is collecting the feedback and making it available to school board members, staff, and even to the public through links to community meeting feedback and survey feedback received before April 28 on the Districtwide Facilities Master Plan page on the Jeffco Schools website. Comments will continue be posted as they are received throughout the feedback process.

Jeffco Schools has also posted other important links with more information about the plan:

There are also multiple community meetings taking place between now and mid-June:

  • May 4, Conifer High School, 8–10 am
  • May 4, Green Mountain High School, 5-7 pm
  • May 31, Ralston Valley High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 1, Pomona High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 4, Stevens Elementary, 8-10 am
  • June 4, Arvada West High School, 11 am – 1 pm
  • June 6, Golden High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 8, Bear Creek High School, 8-10 am
  • June 8, Wheat Ridge High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 9, Stein at O’Connell, 6-8 pm

If you can’t make any of the meetings (or even if you can, but want to provide additional feedback), you can provide feedback via an online survey that is also posted on the Facilities Master Plan page.

So, you may find yourself asking, why are they doing this now?

There are several reasons:

First, the master plan hasn’t been comprehensively updated since 2011.

Second, you’ll likely remember the debate over how to best fund construction of a new school or schools in northwest Arvada: through a bond issue or through Certificates of Participation (COPs), or by pulling money out of classrooms to fund new construction. This was an issue during the recall election last November. The new board members voted to use COPs to build the K-8 at Candelas and to fund phase II of the Sierra Elementary construction. However, all of them were very clear that they prefer to use bonds to finance capital construction.

With that in mind, the board asked staff to update the master plan and to consider what a potential bond package might look like that also takes into account capital needs throughout the district. The facilities master plan is the result.

Third, we’ve been waiting a long time for the economy to get better and state funding to increase, right? Except that the economy has improved and everyone’s property taxes went up and a new marijuana tax was approved and Jeffco Schools still isn’t going to see much (if any) additional state funding. The “negative factor,” allows the state to keep those additional property and marijuana taxes and allocate it to other parts of the state budget — and in fact, our legislators are not giving those additional revenues to the schools.

Nothing about the current funding patterns seems like it will change anytime soon, so we in Jeffco need to tackle our current capital needs ourselves.

One of the big goals of this plan, besides addressing high-growth areas, school overcrowding, and schools with major maintenance needs like new roofs or HVAC systems, is to reduce the amount Jeffco spends on maintenance overall so that those dollars can be used in the classroom. Updated HVAC and electrical systems some schools will produce thousands of dollars in utility cost savings in the long run. It also means that in some cases, the plan suggests school consolidations or closures, along with the replacement of certain school buildings.

“Why are they closing schools and asking money to build new ones?” is a question we’ve heard frequently. The short answer is that on average, our schools are 45 years old and many have major capital needs. If, however, the school can consolidate two of those aging schools into one new and larger school, they’ll save money in the long run. The equation they use is something similar to the one that all of us use when deciding whether to repair or replace an aging car: at some point it becomes cheaper in the long run to buy a new or newer car than to continue sinking thousands of dollar into a 20-year-old car that’s in the shop every few months. A newer car means few if any repair costs and usually better fuel mileage (or in the case of schools, utility savings) as well.

That said, most of the proposals hinge on a successful bond campaign. Without one, it’s not possible to build a new school or addition necessary to consolidate two other schools. And they want the Jeffco community to have a plan that everyone is reasonably happy with, which is the reason they’re asking for so much community feedback. They want to know which parts of the facilities master plan need to be changed before moving forward.

A few more notes on cost: The plan also suggests a couple of minimal cost options. The first one boils down to what Jeffco is already doing: building a K-8 at Candelas, finishing phase II construction at Sierra Elementary, finishing the Rose Stein construction as planned, and continuing with the district’s deferred maintenance plan overall.

A second minimal cost option is to reconfigure schools in four articulation areas as K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools. It makes use of available space at the middle school level and creates space in elementary schools that may be lacking it. Note that the proposal is not a district-wide proposal to move to a K-5, 6-8 configuration, but rather one based on student numbers in each articulation area. Even in a proposal that is based on bond money, some elementary schools would be left in a K-6, 7-8 pattern in order to not overcrowd the middle school.

Our friends at Support Jeffco Kids posted a summary that includes summary information about each of the articulation areas, and we encourage you read that post or to take time to look at the links we’ve included above.

District staff plan to take the feedback to the board to consider at the board’s June 16 meeting. They are expected to provide further direction regarding the plan to staff at that time. Staff will then incorporate the direction into a new version of the plan, and we’d expect a vote on the revised version at a future meeting. There will also need to be a vote if the school board decided to put a bond issue on the ballot.

As you can see, everything is in the very early stages of planning. Look at the information or attend a forum and then let the board members know what you think through one of the above channels or by simply writing them at board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

JeffCo Proud!

 

 

3.17.2016 BOE MEETING PREVIEW

writers_forum

The Jeffco School Board will hold a study session this Thursday, March 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you cannot attend, you can stream the meeting online. Key matters include:

Jeffco’s Early Childhood Education Program

The Board will hear the latest regarding Jeffco’s growing Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program. This includes preschool, Kindergarten and before- and after-school programs. The Board will also meet ECE community partners during this update.

We’re curious to know the impacts to enrollment in Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) as a result of the requirement that free FDK be provided to all students on free and reduced lunch (FRL). This is something that hasn’t been clear, so we’re wondering:

  • How many schools were providing free FDK to all students prior to SBB who have stopped doing so, specifically due to the percentage of FRL students in their school? Our understand from last year was that there were 40 schools providing free FDK that went down to 25 schools after the implementation of SBB.
  • As we understand it, schools receive additional funds for free lunch kiddos, but not for reduced lunch kiddos. Therefore, schools have to provide the funds for school fees and free FDK for reduced lunch kiddos from their general fund. How is this impacting schools and what is being done to relieve this pressure?

We’re also wondering if the district or new board has considered a tiered system of charging for FDK like the one Denver Public Schools implemented, which bases tuition upon the size of the family relative to their gross income and ability to pay instead of a flat $300/month fee? Or is there a way the district could move toward offering free FDK for everyone, perhaps on a 5- or 10-year implementation plan? (The ideal situation would be that the state allocates funding to allow all districts to offer free FDK, of course, but we’re well aware of the ongoing state funding problems.)

2nd Quarter Financial Report

Jeffco Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson, a representative from the District’s auditor and members of the District’s Financial Oversight Committee will share the latest financial news. The report identifies funds, departments and/or schools to monitor closely throughout the year.

We’re pleased to see no charter schools are borrowing at the end of this quarter, and Collegiate Academy has closed its line of credit with the District. Budgeting for the 2016-2017 school year will continue to be a hot topic. Stay tuned.

District Accountability Committee

Next, Jeffco Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott and District Accountability Committee Chair Julie Oxenford-O’Brian will update the Board on the District’s Unified Improvement Plan before it is submitted to the Colorado Department of Education.

Legislative Update

Jeffco’s Lobbyist, Ed Bowditch, will update the Board on legislation affecting schools, districts and education.

When Cindy Stevenson Left Jeffco…

Two years ago, when the Board approved former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s early release from her duties, Witt, Newkirk and Williams insisted on barring her from volunteering or being employed in Jeffco Schools in the future.

Paragraph #12, page 5 of 8 of that agreement reads, No continuing right of employment by the District. Dr. Stevenson agrees that she will not apply for or otherwise seek re-employment or seek to volunteer in the District, (emphasis added) including its charter schools until December 31, 2018, and that, in the event she does so, it will be a material breach of this Agreement, and the District and its charter schools will have no obligation to consider her application.”

At the March 3, 2016, meeting, Ron Mitchell asked that this be reviewed by district legal counsel to see if that prohibition could be changed. At the last meeting, Mitchell said he didn’t think that was a typical element of an agreement and that it seemed needless. We are interested in understanding whether that clause can be changed or eliminated, and what the board may have in mind.

We’ll also note for the record that Stevenson is currently employed as Director of the CASE Leadership Initiative, so we don’t think this is a move to reinstate her as superintendent. Barring her from even volunteering in the district, however, was always clearly meant to be spiteful by WNW.

Employee Negotiations

The meeting wraps up with an update on Employee Negotiations – the teacher contract. The Board will hear from Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Weber and contract attorney Jim Branum. The next negotiations session will take place Monday, March 28.

Jeffco Student Headed to Scripps National Spelling Bee – AGAIN!

On a lighter note, we’d like to congratulate Jeffco Schools student Sylvie Lamontagne who will represent Colorado in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second year running. Lamontagne, an eighth grader at Creighton Middle School, competed last year and finished 9th out of 285 spellers at the national bee. This is the first time in 20 years that Colorado has had a back-to-back champion, thanks in part to a change in the rules that allows a winner to compete again in the contest. Her winning word was “ossifrage.” Good luck at the national spelling bee!

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!