The Jeffco School Board unanimously voted to put a mill and bond on the November ballot, and also approved a resolution supporting the statewide school funding initiative Amendment 73 at their meeting on Aug. 23.
Board members voted after hearing Jeffco parents, teachers, principals and citizens talk for more than an hour about about how aging school buildings, low wages, and staff shortages are negatively impacting learning conditions for Jeffco students.
Sally Kate Tinch, Jim Earley, Kay Slater and Monica Buhlig, co-chairs of the new issue committee We Are Jeffco, also addressed the board and asked them to support a mill and bond in addition to Amendment 73.
“We have formed a team of dedicated Jeffco stakeholders to make 2018 our year to make school better for all Jeffco kids,” Slater told the board. “The value of the three ballot initiatives together is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Parents, teachers speak about safety concerns, aging facilities
“I have a dream — for a school building that supports expanding opportunities for our students, such as the replacement of our 1961 Alameda speaker system in our auditorium to support our new performing arts and design pathway,” said Susie Van Scoyk, Principal of Alameda International Jr./Sr. High School.
“My dream is that the conditions for learning at Alameda are the same as any other Jeffco school,” Van Scoyk said. “This is the time, and it is our responsibility to create a district where all students and staff thrive.”
Members of the Jeffco School Safety Task Force also addressed the board to speak about the connections between funding and school safety. Parent Kristen Dobrowski told the board that additional funding would help pay for safety improvements like shatter-resistant window film, interior door locks, and additional mental health services.
Task force member Karen Tonso told board members that although the task force recommendations were still forthcoming, there were a number of recommendations in the draft that would require additional funding. The task force will present the board a final set of school safety recommendations on October 4th.
Colleen Owens, Green Mountain principal, told board members that after this summer’s flash floods damaged the building, they found asbestos, had to replace drywall, and still have holes in the roof as well as mice in the building.
“We lag behind every comparable-size school district in the metro area in per-pupil funding — and it’s beginning to show,” Jeffco teacher Dale Munholland said. “I believe that our students deserve to have a building that does not leak water in a classroom every time it rains or we have a heavy snow.”
Jeffco struggling to hire teachers, bus drivers, staff due to wage gaps
In addition to facility concerns, Jeffco staff and community members said Jeffco needs to be more competitive in hiring. Owens said Green Mountain still has two vacant teaching positions — one in English and one in math, with substitutes in those positions currently — because Jeffco’s teacher pay is not competitive.
“I’m not getting good candidates, and the candidates I am getting, the first thing they ask me is ‘How much does it pay?'” she said.
Jeffco’s struggles to attract and retain staff were mentioned repeatedly. Lara Center, chair of the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA), told the board that bus driver shortages are leading to overcrowded buses and even students arriving late to school as drivers cover two routes instead of one.
Jeffco has been unable to attract drivers because they can earn more in neighboring districts, she said. This has also resulted in multiple cases where no bus drivers are available to transport teams to athletic events.
A Jeffco kitchen manager also asked the school board to put a mill levy override on the ballot. She explained that her take-home pay is $816 a month, but her rent is $1,600. Even though she also works two other part-time jobs, her two children are on Medicaid, and her family qualifies for food stamps.
Mid-career teachers in Jeffco are paid $12,737 less on average than in surrounding districts, Munholland said. He suggested that Jeffco, once seen as a destination district, is now considered a fall-back district.
Munholland said that salaries are not the only way in which funding shortages negatively affect instruction: “By April, the copy budget is beginning to run out,” and teachers have to get creative about how to teach lessons with limited supporting materials.
“We have to close the pay gap between Jeffco and the surrounding districts,” said Hannah Bruner, a fourth-year elementary teacher with a master’s degree. She explained that in addition to her full-time teaching job she is working three other part-time jobs to make ends meet — and despite that is living in government-subsidized housing.
“My students deserve better than this,” Bruner said. “They deserve a teacher who is not working multiple other jobs.”
One Lakewood resident asked the board to wait a year to put a mill and bond on the ballot, in order to give Amendment 73 the best chance to be approved in November. No other speakers opposed a mill or bond at the meeting.
School board approves $567 million bond
The board voted to approve putting a $567 million bond package on the November ballot. That amount was reduced from the $647 million proposed earlier this year, in order to reduce the impact on property owners.
“This is a modest ask for a district our size,” board member Brad Rupert explained. He added that this package is not equivalent to the 2016 bond package that did not pass.
The 2018 bond package includes:
- $345 million to improve instruction, efficiency, and safety and security. That includes building a south area career technology facility. Money will also be used to address long-standing maintenance issues such as failing HVAC systems and leaking roofs. It will also provide safety and security improvements.
- $110 million to build three replacement schools and to provide seven elementary school additions and seven middle school additions.
- $56 million will be used to address student growth in northwest Arvada and west-central Lakewood.
- An additional $56 million will be given to Jeffco’s charter schools for capital improvements.
The board also approved restrictions for the bond. According to the restrictions:
- Bond funds can only be used for construction and other capital improvements or maintenance
- Funds cannot be used for district administration or staff
- A citizen oversight committee will monitor the use of bond funds
- Bond funds will be invested in the local economy, with a preference for pursuing contracts with local firms
The bond package would raise property taxes on a $300,000 home by $5.42 per month, or about $65 per year. Jeffco Schools last passed a bond in 2012, but those funds were limited to capital maintenance and repairs. Jeffco has not passed a bond for new construction since 2004.
$33 million mill levy override also on ballot
Jeffco board members also unanimously approved putting a mill levy override on the ballot. Board members emphasized that this funding would complement Amendment 73 funding if both measures pass.
“I think Jeffco continues to fall behind our neighbors in competing for the best teachers and leaders in our schools,” Rupert said. He added that while many neighboring districts won a mill levy override in 2016 and were able to give 3.5 percent cost of living increases, Jeffco could only give a 3 percent cost of living increase.
“Make no mistake, they don’t hire the mediocre or low performers” Rupert said. “They circle and they poach the very best of our teachers and leaders.”
Stevens added that although Amendment 73 would fund more investments in mental health and security, “without a mill levy override the investment is incomplete.”
“An incomplete investment in this area may be counted not only in dollars but lives — lost to suicide or addiction or bullying or disconnection and dropping out, or worse, and Jeffco’s seen worse,” she said.
“Amendment 73 is a statewide solution,” Rupert said. “The mill levy override is to help us compete in the marketplace to for our teachers and leaders in our local community.”
“We need Amendment 73 so that a mill levy override can do the work we intend it to do. Or, in two or three years the purposes we set for these dollars will be diverted as we face the ongoing constraints that have forced us down a slide from the national average for decades,” said board member Amanda Stevens.
“This isn’t an either-or proposition,” Rupert said. “We need all of these things.”
Funding from the mill levy override will be distributed as follows:
- 50 percent to close the wage gap so that Jeffco Schools can attract and retain the best teachers and staff
- 20 percent to fund school safety and security, including additional mental health and counseling support
- 10 percent to expand career, technical education, and STEM programming options
- 10 percent to update instructional materials like textbooks, supplies, and technology
- 10 percent to expand full-day kindergarten kindergarten and other early childhood education programming
- Charter schools all also receive per-pupil mill levy dollars to support their programming
The mill would cost taxpayers who own a $300,000 home approximately $6.31 per month, or about $75 per year.
“To stay current, it costs more money,” board member Ali Lasell said.
“Our students deserve more,” school board president Ron Mitchell said of the mill and bond proposals. “This will take a village.”
The board will vote on the final ballot language for the mill and bond on Sept. 6.