On the Issues: If I Had a Billion Dollars, and Marijuana Money Saved the Day …

During my first 100+ days, I have been speaking with many stakeholders in our community. In this new communication, On the Issues, I’ll be working to address questions asked and issues raised during these visits, directly and in a responsive manner. In this first edition, I’ll be talking about Jeffco Public Schools’ budget.

Is Jeffco’s budget really a billion dollars in size? How does a billion dollars stack up when you need to educate 86,000 students? What do other districts about the same size as Jeffco spend? How much does Jeffco spend on central administration compared to other districts? And, hasn’t all that marijuana money solved our funding problems? Let’s run through these questions and look at these numbers in context.

First, is Jeffco’s budget $1 billion? Jeffco’s total budget is $979 million. However, that isn’t entirely accurate. We have 14 different funds and several of them receive transfers from the General Fund that results in double counting of dollars if you simply add all the funds together. Also, over 30% of our budget has restrictions so those funds can’t be used for things like lowering class size or paying our educators more. Examples of restricted funds include the debt service fund, which includes dollars that can only be used to repay bond debt, and the food service fund, which can only be used to provide food service for students. I have provided a graphic at the end of this email which provides an overview of Jeffco’s budget for reference.

But how does Jeffco’s budget stack up to districts about our size around the country? Nearly a billion dollars sounds like, and is, a lot of money. But that number also needs to be considered in context. Nationally, when compared to the 10 districts closest in size to Jeffco, all 10 similarly-sized districts have a larger budget than Jeffco – even when factoring in cost of living indexes. By comparison, Jeffco has a smaller total budget than any of the districts of comparable size.

graphic of table showing budgets of districts around the country

I’m also sometimes asked about the district’s spending on central administrative costs, versus what goes to the classroom. In every school organization, priority is given to sending dollars to directly serve students. However, there are real administrative costs associated with running an organization with 14,000 employees and 86,000 students. Again, a comparison to what other districts are doing is useful. In Colorado, here’s what some of the other large districts in the metro area spend per student for district administrative costs annually, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

graphic of table showing funding per student in area districts

And what about comparisons to other states? Colorado’s Per Pupil Spending has been dropping from national averages since the early 1990s and is now $2,200 less than the national average, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. This effect has been brought about by a mixture of competing state constitutional provisions, and it creates a disadvantage for our students as they are compared to – and try to compete with – students who have greater opportunities. Looking at all combined funds (federal, state, and local), here are the top 10 spending states, compared to Colorado:

But wait, hasn’t all that marijuana money made our schools in Colorado flush with cash? The short answer is no. Jeffco has received a little over $2M since the inception of marijuana funding. This is less than 0.3% of Jeffco’s annual budget for 2017/2018. To put it another way, less than a third of a penny in every dollar in Jeffco’s budget comes from marijuana funds. While we appreciate these additional dollars, they are earmarked for specific purposes and the amount is so small that it has far from solved our budget issues.

We’re proud of what our Jeffco schools have to offer, and we are grateful for the dollars our community has provided us to serve Jeffco’s kids. We’re also very proud of our efficiency. In spite of our funding challenges, Jeffco students do well on standardized measures compared to other students in Colorado and around the country, and the diversity of programming available for Jeffco kids is truly extraordinary.

When it comes to talking about the budget, let’s get all of the data on the table and look at where Jeffco (and Colorado) stacks up against other places. Going forward, we will take whatever dollars are available to us and work to do good things for our kids and community.

Jeffco students, parents, families, staff, and community members may engage with Dr. Glass via Twitter @COJasonGlass and through his blog, https://advancejeffco.blog/.

graphic showing overview of Jeffco's budget and funds

12 thoughts on “On the Issues: If I Had a Billion Dollars, and Marijuana Money Saved the Day …

  1. Dr Glass,
    Thank you for publishing your response to stakeholder questions in this forum. Laying out facts and allowing residents to come to their own cocnclusin is the way to go. Not much room for argument here, Jeffco is obviously thrifty when it comes to funds per student ratio. Operating on a tight budget does not leave much fiscal room for error and resource allocation. You have my support. Keep up the good work

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  2. Great write-up. I had no idea. The budget comparisons with other states and districts as well as the dollar amount comparisons associated with marijuana in this article are very, very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the sharing this! I must admit that my knowledge of school funding is very limited, but I would love to know more. How is the budget decided? ie, what are the factors involved? I fail to understand why kids in Boulder for example get $132 admin spending, while kids in Jeffco only get $61? Or that Jeffco only having $980M (~ $11K budget per enrollee)and Denver has $1.8B budget ($20K budget per enrollee, almost 100% more than Jeffco). Who decides these budget allocation? How can we get more budget?

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    1. Hi Sharon – school budgets are generally proposed by the school district administration and approved by he Board of Education. The Boulder number versus the Jeffco number for the expenditure on district administration per student can best be explained by 1) Boulder has more overall dollars available than Jeffco and 2) Boulder has chosen to place more money into district administration than Jeffco. In Colorado, to increase school budgets, new dollars must be allocated from the state legislature, which has significant constitutional constraints on available revenue – or come from passing a local mill levy property tax for operational needs or a bond property tax for facilities improvement needs.

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  4. Jason,
    You have provided us all a sobering perspective on the realities of the Jeffco funding situation. I cannot begin to thank you enough. The data is compelling and a clear call to action for all of us who care about our children’s education. This piece should form the centerpiece of a broad campaign to inform voters about the efficiency of educational services in Jefferson County, and the clear mandate that we must do more to support our schools. Jeffco is fortunate to have you at the helm.

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  5. Dr Glass,

    The numbers are informative but I don’t understand the pay of many of your leadership team. Why are we paying an admin/communications person $92,000+. As a business owner it would seem we can get that type of skill set for $30,000 less. I also don’t understand 3 other positions regarding student or academic performance. Big dollars for what could also be perceived over paid or not necessary. Your personal compensation also seems out of line for a budget strapped district.

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    1. Hi Milton, and thanks for this question.

      When it comes to compensation, its important to remember that you can’t repeal the law of supply and demand. Our top administrative leaders at Jeffco are actually underpaid compared to their peers in similarly sized organizations here in the front-range and around the country. Frankly, I’m grateful that they are willing to work for Jeffco given that they could leave and earn more in different districts. When it comes to our communications efforts, I heard from many of our community members that they felt we weren’t doing well in getting our message across. We probably need to be spending more on communication, not less – and coupling that with some intentional efforts to engage the community in direct conversations on real topics – like you and I are doing right here.

      On the academic positions, Jeffco is a big district with 86,000 students and 155 schools. As you can see from the chart in this post, our dollars going to district administration are relatively low compared to other comparable districts, and dramatically lower than others. Each of the academically focused positions oversees parts of our organization with thousands of employees and critical work to do relating to serving families and making sure instruction is of quality. I’m not sure it makes sense for us to economize this further in an effort to be penny-wise and pound foolish.

      Finally, when it comes to my pay, I’d be happy to stack my compensation up against CEOs of similarly sized organizations. I think you’ll find that Jeffco is getting a good deal on it’s superintendent! Beyond that, it really comes down to return on investment. If I can be successful in improving Jeffco Schools, then I will be worth every penny, but time will tell on that.

      Speaking of pennies, let’s also put this whole conversation of the district’s leadership compensation into perspective. The entire compensation spending for this group amounts to less than a fraction of a penny out of every dollar spent in Jeffco. If we want to do something about our school funding, we need solutions that are at the size of the problem and that can make a real impact.

      Hammering about executive compensation may be an easy political target, but it doesn’t really change the equation considering the district’s budget. So, let’s get real about the problems, and the solutions.

      Thanks again for engaging – I appreciate the question.

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