Jeffco Election Questions Take Shape

Over this spring and summer, Jeffco Public Schools has been working to engage the community on possible ballot questions for this November’s election. I’d like to take a moment to explain how Jeffco would use potential funds from a statewide effort called Amendment 73, and my recommendation to the Board of Education for local ballot questions this fall.

At the state level, Amendment 73 is a proposed change to the Colorado Constitution that would generate $1.6 billion in new ongoing revenue for PreK-12 education. It is funded through an income tax on filers earning more than $150,000 annually and C-corporations. 92% of Colorado filers would pay no additional income tax under this proposal. It also locks in and sets state residential property rates at 7% and state commercial property tax rates at 24%, which is a .2% and 5% reduction respectively compared to where they are now. Other locally approved funds are not affected.

For Jeffco Public Schools, this would mean about $1,609 per student in additional revenue and would be a sea-change in new education resources relative to where we are now. However, for greater context, it would move Colorado to just below the national average in education funding.

Our district would use these funds in the following ways (with approximate percentages): attract & retain quality teachers and staff (50%), address class-size and staffing shortages (15%), add mental health and counseling supports to improve school safety (10%), expand early childhood education in district programs (10%), expand career/technical and STEM education options (7.5%), and purchase classroom learning materials and technology (7.5%). Charter schools would get their proportionate share of these funds.

Amendment 73 has made the ballot for this fall and there are pro and con statements available on it. It will need 55% voter approval to pass.

I am also recommending that the Board adopt a local ballot question, called a mill levy override for $33 million dollars annually, adjusting for inflation. This would be generated through a property tax, which would be around $2.10 per month, per $100,000 of residential value.

Jeffco Public Schools is at a competitive disadvantage to several surrounding Front Range school districts as others have been historically successful passing local funding increases where Jeffco has been mixed.

In terms of how we would use mill levy dollars (with approximate percentages), we would increase our competitiveness with other districts for quality teachers and staff (50%), improve school safety and security through additional mental health, counseling, and school security (20%), expand career/technical and STEM options (10%), expand full day early childhood education (10%), and purchase classroom learning materials and technology (10%). Charter schools would get their proportionate share.

We will also recommend some accountability elements on this mill levy, writing into the ballot language that none of these resources can be used for senior district administration, that an expert citizen oversight committee will review the uses of these funds, and that they are subject to an annual external audit.

I am also recommending that the Board put a $567 million bond program forward. Bond funds are used for construction purposes and cannot be used for administration or staff. Bonds are repaid through a property tax increase, which in this case would be around $1.81 per month, per $100,000 of residential value.

Jeffco’s average building is now over 50 years old and it has been 14 years since a major reinvestment in our schools. There was a small “warm, safe, & dry” program in 2012, which has now been completed.

Jeffco would use 60% of these funds to bring all schools in the district up to a common standard of quality in terms of instructional space and building safety and security. We would also expand and add career/technical and STEM education facilities and early childhood education options.

Jeffco is a large and diverse community with very different needs. We would use 20% of these funds to reinvest in established parts of Jeffco, keeping those communities and schools attractive places for families and kids. We also have growth areas and would spend 10% of the funds to accommodate new schools and additions where needed. Charter schools would be passed through their proportionate share, 10%.

Bond funds would also be monitored by a separate blue-ribbon oversight committee and be subject to an annual external audit. In an effort to reinvest dollars into our local economy, we will add a preference for local firms and contractors in doing this work, which we expect will take five years to complete.

These three school election questions provide voters real and meaningful options for how they may wish to support education in our state and here in Jeffco. The Board of Education can decide to accept, reject, or modify my recommendations at their August 23 meeting for what will be on the November ballot. As always, the voters will make the final decision at the polls.

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