I am incredibly honored and privileged to serve as the new superintendent of Douglas County School District, the third largest school district in the state of Colorado. As we begin the 2018-19 school …
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I am incredibly honored and privileged to serve as the new superintendent of Douglas County School District, the third largest school district in the state of Colorado. As we begin the 2018-19 school year, my top priority is ensuring that each and every one of our 68,000-plus students receives a high-quality education and leaves our district ready to be successful in college, the military or the workforce. I simply will not settle for anything less than the best for each and every one of our children.
DCSD consists of 91 schools spread across more than 850 square miles. There are many different communities and lifestyles across Douglas County — ranging from small, rural communities such as Larkspur, Franktown and Sedalia — to larger suburban communities such as Castle Rock, Parker, Highlands Ranch, Castle Pines and Lone Tree. Together, our communities educate more than 7 percent of the state’s public school students (Source: Colorado Department of Education 2017-18 Pupil Membership).
This year, DCSD celebrates its 60th anniversary. We have a lot to celebrate and be proud of, but what many do not know is that our great school district is facing funding challenges that, if not addressed, could jeopardize the great educational experience that our kids need and deserve.
Colorado ranks in the lower third among the states in terms of public school spending per pupil (Source: U.S. Census Bureau). This means all school districts across our state struggle with funding. But what makes DCSD unique is that we have not passed new local funding measures, such as a bond or mill levy override, since 2006. Meanwhile, our neighboring school districts have passed such measures — in some cases, multiple times. This is making it nearly impossible for our school district to compete for the best educators for our children. Our neighbor, Cherry Creek School District, pays teachers, on average, nearly $19,000 more each year than we are able to in Douglas County (Source:Colorado Department of Education 2017-18 Average Teacher Salaries). Our teachers are incredibly committed to our children, but with the current cost of living, it’s difficult to ignore the chance to make that kind of additional income.
School safety is on the forefront of all of our minds. Devastating school shootings, such as those in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, serve as a reminder that we must continuously invest additional resources into the security of our schools, including additional School Resource Officers and the latest in security technology. But these upgrades come with a price tag and additional funding is necessary to keep up and maintain a safe and secure learning environment.
Among our other priorities, we want to provide our students with additional pathways so they can leave high school immediately prepared to enter the career force, should they choose to do so. And we can’t wait any longer to update our aging school buildings. If we continue to defer maintenance, some of our facilities may have to be shut down, should emergency repairs become necessary.
Our board of education is considering placing a bond and mill levy override on the ballot this fall, which would address our funding issues. Bond funding is typically used for capital needs such as building repairs and maintenance, technology, security systems and transportation. Mill levy override funding, or MLO, is generally used for ongoing operational needs, such as salaries and student programming, safety and mental health supports.
Should the board of education decide to put these measures on the ballot, you will be hearing a lot about these initiatives and why they are critical to the future of our school district. I encourage you to ask questions, be informed, and talk to your friends and neighbors about these issues and what they mean to our students, schools, and community.
Thomas S. Tucker, Ph.D., is the superintendent of the Douglas County School District.
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