This past spring and through the summer, Jeffco Public Schools has been engaged in a community conversation about possibly putting ballot questions on for the November election. Through focus groups, surveys, and scientific data collection, it appears that there is support for this in the community.
While the Board of Education has the final say on any ballot questions that might appear, the most likely scenario involves putting forth a “bond” question for school construction and building upgrades. Jeffco’s average building age is over 50 years now and it has been 14 years since any major upgrades or construction. We have much to do in terms of keeping all our schools attractive places for kids and families.
While what happens instructionally is what matters most, most would say an attractive and fresh school building is important. This is especially so in older parts of Jeffco, where a reinvestment in our schools can keep places like Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Edgewater, Lakewood, Westminster, Littleton, and Golden great places to raise a family. Strong neighborhood schools can attract and keep families, supporting local businesses and stable housing prices.
In addition to older parts of Jeffco, we also have growing areas in northern Arvada and western Lakewood where more houses mean more families and students.
Our mountain communities are also in great need of a significant refresh on their schools. Students in Evergreen, Conifer, and Morrison get a great education at their schools, rated some of the best in the state or even the country. However, these buildings are aging as well and mountain conditions can be harsh on facilities.
When it comes to construction, a few key priorities have emerged from our community. First, with the Parkland shooting this past spring and Jeffco’s history with school violence, improvements related to safety and security are high on the list. We also heard a strong desire to maintain the community’s schools, keeping quality environments for learning. Yet another priority was a desire to expand career/technical education options, such as the district’s excellent Warren Tech program.
Final details of what the district’s bond program might look like are still in development and the Board will make the final decision, but there is a strong possibility that voters in Jeffco will have some decisions to make on the ballot about reinvesting in their community’s schools.
At the state level, Amendment 73 (also known as Great Schools, Thriving Communities) may bring some relief to Colorado’s well-known problems around ongoing funds that schools use to pay teachers and provide services to kids and families.
Amendment 73 would create a new and ongoing $1.6 billion for Colorado’s schools through a progressive income tax on those making over $150,000 annually and corporations. It would actually reduce residential and commercial property taxes in the state. Approximately 92% of Colorado residents would pay nothing if Amendment 73 passed, but it is a tax increase on wealthy filers and corporations.
For Jeffco, this would mean around $134 million annually in revenues (approximately $1,609 per student), which we could use to attract and retain quality teachers and staff, add mental health and counseling supports, and expand career-technical education courses. While these funds would only bring Colorado (and Jeffco) near, though not quite at, the national average in school funding, it would be a sea change compared to where we are now.
Jeffco Public Schools may also consider a mill levy override, which would also provide ongoing resources for things like staff compensation or new program offerings for students, and help increase our competitiveness with surrounding districts on attracting and keeping talent for Jeffco. However, we are still considering how that might interact with Amendment 73 as both would provide ongoing operational dollars.
The Board of Education will finalize their decision on August 23 to determine if Jeffco Public Schools will be on the ballot. Until then, I encourage you to learn more about schools in your community by scheduling a visit with your local school and reading more about the pros and cons of Amendment 73.