The passage of Jeffco Public Schools’ ballot questions 5A and 5B will bring important improvements to schools all across our community. I get a lot of questions about how we will spend these funds and when we can expect to see some impacts from them, and I’d like to address some of those questions here.
Let’s start with ballot question 5A, the mill levy override. 5A will provide $33 million annually for Jeffco Public Schools, adjusting annually for inflation. The ballot language in question 5A and resolutions passed by the Board of Education before the election set out parameters of how we spend these funds.
Jefferson County will collect the $33 million for this current school year through property taxes. While this makes these funds available for the current year, we will not have the cash in hand until late spring. Because it would not make sense to hire staff in April or May to only work for a couple of months, we are looking at possible one-time expenditures with these funds in the current year, and then holding some of them back to spend them across several years. This will allow us to more effectively plan for and use these dollars in the first few years of having 5A funding.
Of the $33 million, roughly $3 million passes through proportionately to our community’s charter schools, in accordance with a Board resolution to this effect. Charter schools make school-level decisions about how they will use the funds, but they still have to spend within one or more of the categories outlined in the ballot question.
For the roughly $30 million remaining for the other district schools, the Board of Education has directed that 50%, or $15 million of this, be used for staff compensation (excluding senior district administration). While $15 million is a lot of money, with the size of Jeffco Public Schools, it goes quickly. For example, it costs around $6 million for a 1% raise to district employees. Still, we plan to use these funds, along with other new money we may get from the state legislature for next year, to make a positive impact on our employees concerning compensation.
The next largest category for spending 5A funds is around school safety and security. Twenty percent of the funds, or $6 million, will be used to add social/emotional, mental health, counseling, and school safety supports across Jeffco. We have the benefit of the work of the School Safety & Security Task Force, which created a comprehensive set of recommendations. We will use these 5A funds to make significant progress in meeting those recommendations.
We will also use 10% of 5A funds for career/technical education: 10% for technology and curricular materials and 10% for early childhood education. We are currently planning the expansion of Warren Tech programming into existing schools and on a new site in south Jeffco that will be constructed using 5B funds. We are also evaluating plans for how we will use 5A funds to provide a high-quality leaning device for each student. And, we are looking at the expansion of the district’s preschool programs including positively impacting the qualifications of people working in those schools.
Again, we will see some changes this school year, but the real changes will come with next school year’s budget.
Shifting to 5B, that ballot question allows the district to sell bonds and generate $567 million in one-time funds for construction purposes. While not a certainty, we believe we can use existing maintenance dollars for the next six years, additional funds generated from how the bond sale is structured, and conservative investments of these funds to create a total of around $750 million that will ultimately be available for construction projects.
Make no mistake, 5B is a huge investment in our buildings. We expect it will take six years to complete all the projects in 5B and we already have done the work to be on the bond market for the first sale of Jeffco bonds, and we are already seeking contracts with construction, architecture, and engineering firms to do the work associated with this bond.
Presently, there is a great deal of jockeying about which projects will be first in the bond program and who will need to wait. Our first priorities are places that have significant building quality concerns or student growth pressure. We are also considering which buildings are the most overdue for improvements, the scale (size) of the projects versus available construction services, the complexity of the design and architectural work and if we can bundle projects together that have similar needs.
The reality is not everyone can be first, and we are going to have to make some choices regarding ordering. However, if your school is not chosen to be an early project, there is a positive aspect to consider. Jeffco has typically brought construction projects in on time and under budget. This means that the longer one waits in the construction process, there is a possibility of more funding being available later. There are any number of changes to the construction market and even the global economy that could impact this work, but today we expect to be able to do even more than what was promised in the election for 5B.
Looking ahead, we will work on continued communication with you about how we will spend 5A and 5B funds to provide transparency. We are excited about the possibilities these funds bring our schools and want everyone in Jeffco to be so proud of what our community has done to support its schools and kids.