This November, Douglas County School District will get a shot at securing additional sources of funding. At a meeting on Aug. 21, six of the seven school board members — Wendy Vogel was absent — …
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This November, Douglas County School District will get a shot at securing additional sources of funding.
At a meeting on Aug. 21, six of the seven school board members — Wendy Vogel was absent — voted to put a bond and mill levy override on the Nov. 6 ballot.
For nearly 2 1/2 hours at the start of the board meeting, former and current educators, parents and community members took the stand during public comment to voice their overwhelming support for the tax measures.
“Our kids need this money and they need it quickly,” parent Stacey Chamaty said. “Kids don't get a second chance at their education.”
Several students also stood before the school board, giving impassioned pleas on how the lack of funding has impacted their schools. They described larger class sizes, a loss of great educators and an absence of classes that once existed.
“Every student is different. They have different hobbies and interests,” ThunderRidge student Joey Quintana said in a maxed-out boardroom of more than 50 community members. “(Not) offering the classes they want to take could affect their futures.”
At a board meeting on Aug. 7, Superintendent Thomas Tucker recommended one of three bond and mill levy override packages, put together by district staff, to the school board. The recommendation, which was ultimately approved by the board Aug. 21, calls for a $250 million bond and a $40 million mill levy override.
Should voters in the county approve the tax increases, a homeowner with a home valued at $470,00 would pay an additional $208 a year, or $17.33 a month.
A bond measure would address building repairs in the district, and a mill levy override would go toward teacher pay and school programs. The other options presented by staff were a $300 million bond and a mill levy override of $30 million or $50 million.
Ballot measures on school funding were brought before Douglas County voters in 2008 and 2011, but voters rejected them.
The last time Douglas County passed a local bond or mill levy override was in 2006. Jefferson County Public Schools passed a measure in 2012 and Cherry Creek School District passed a measure in 2016. Littleton Public Schools passed a mill levy override in 2010 and a bond measure in 2013.
The difference in funding has caused inequities in teacher pay across county lines. The average teacher salary for the 2017-18 school year at Jefferson County Public Schools was $57,154, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Cherry Creek's was $71,711 and Littleton's was $66,399. Douglas County's was $53,080.
Inadequate funding has also created issues at school buildings, officials say. District schools are in need of between $303 million and $403 million in repairs, according to DCSD's Master Capital Plan.
Tax measures have been a hot topic since the school board election last November, when voters elected four candidates who opposed the previous board's reforms of the past several years — including a pay system that many said led to an exodus of teachers.
Over the past eight months, school board members have emphasized the need for additional funds at board meetings and work sessions. Some community members speculated that a primary reason the board selected Tucker as the district's newest superintendent was because of his success in helping to pass tax measures at his previous school districts in Ohio.
The school board named Tucker as superintendent at a board meeting on April 5, after a nationwide search.
In late May, the school board hired a research firm to survey residents throughout the county on their views of the school district and funding. The majority of respondents indicated they would support a tax measure.
Within the bond, $150 million would go toward Tier 1 and additional high-priority Tier 2 needs, which are critical building repairs. Capital reinvestments, with an estimated $3 million to $9 million for charter school safety and Tier 1 needs, would account for $61 million. And $39 million would go toward capital construction and career and technical education.
A $40 million mill levy override would provide $17 million to address teacher pay; $6 million for changing counselor ratios at elementary, middle and high schools; $9 million for school-level funding depending on student need, equity and programming; and $8 million for charter schools.
Board member Krista Holtzmann called Tucker's recommendation “reasonable and thoughtful.”
The district's needs “are real and they are very clear,” she said at the Aug. 21 board meeting. “It's sad to see some of the challenges that our students have. It's sad to see the fall, quite frankly, that we've had. But I am so encouraged.”
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