By Mike McKibbin
For the seventh time in the last 20 years, voters in Jefferson County School District R-1 (also know as Jefferson County Public Schools or Jeffco Public Schools) will be asked to increase their property taxes to improve the condition of all buildings and help increase salaries and benefits for teachers and staff, among many other uses.
Two questions will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot in the district, which serves more than 86,000 students in 155 schools, including nine option schools and 18 charter schools. It is the second-largest school district in Colorado and operates 205 facilities within 777 square miles while employing 14,000 people.
Ballot question 5A asks voters to increase their property taxes by $33 million, known as a mill levy override. The money would be used to expand programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and career/technical education; attract and retain high quality teachers and staff; increase mental health and counseling professionals to improve student mental health services; update aged and outdated instructional resources such as books, supplies and technology; and increase early education programs.
Question 5B seeks to increase the debt of the district by $567 million through a bond issue, with a repayment cost of up to $997.64 million, and to increase property taxes up to $67.4 million annually to repay that debt. This money would add and expand career/technical education facilities; upgrade safety and security in school buildings; repair, renovate, equip or re-construct school buildings to ensure they are more safe, efficient, and accessible; and construct, furnish, equip and support buildings and classrooms at all types of schools, including charter schools.
If 5A is approved, residential taxes will go up $2.10 a month per $100,000 in value and non-residential (commercial) taxes will increase $8.47 per month for every $100,000 in value.
If 5B is approved, a taxpayer would experience a $1.81 per month increase for every $100,000 in residential value. Non-residential (commercial) taxes would increase $7.28 per month for every $100,000 of property value.
We Are Jeffco is an issue committee registered with the Colorado Secretary of State to support the two questions. No opposition group is registered.
The committee’s latest financial report to the secretary of state’s office on Oct. 1 listed expenditures of $32,207.59, contributions of $71,915 and a remaining balance of $39,707.41. The majority of donations were small, but among the largest contributors were Westerra Credit Union, $2,500; Centura Health, $10,000; Peter Powers of St. Anthony Hospital-Centura Health, $2,500; the Jefferson Foundation (Jeffco Schools Foundation), $10,000; Colorado Education Association, $5,000; and FirstBank Holding Company, $10,000.
Old buildings need work, bond market positive
According to information on the district website, the district has proposed six bond issue and/or mill levy hikes and seen three bond issues approved and two defeated since 1998. The mill levy overrides were split, with three approved and three defeated.
The district has $1.3 billion in capital needs and the proposed work was scaled back $80 million from original proposals in June.
With the average age of district buildings at nearly 50 years, the school board directed the money from the bond issue benefit all schools, with major renovations to high schools built before 1980, expansion of career and technical education sites and to accommodate growth with additions and new schools, among other items.
At an Oct. 8 public meeting at the Manning School, 13200 W. 32nd Ave., Superintendent Jason Glass said the latest proposals do not include any school closings or consolidations, something that was considered after the defeat of the 2016 measures.
“We want to improve all our schools,” he told a small crowd. “If the bond market is favorable, we may do even more. I believe we can exceed our planned improvements under current market conditions.”
If 5A is approved by voters, the $567 million would be split among several uses: $354 million for projects at 99 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, 18 high schools, three pre-K sites and 20 option schools; school safety and security, interior and exterior renovations, technology, furnishings, playgrounds, mechanical upgrades, and bringing schools into educational specification compliance; a new career and technical education site in south Jefferson County and to reduce the Jeffco Facility Condition Index by 50 percent.
Another $110 million would be used to replace three schools, seven elementary school additions and seven middle school additions, while $56 million would go towards two new schools in high-growth areas of central Lakewood and northwest Arvada, and $56 million would help charter schools.
Approximately $23 million in current capital transfer money will be used along with the bond money to help pay for a six-year, $705 million capital improvement program.
The district also noted the budgets for central services have been cut several times in the last decade. Central services include support for all schools in areas such as special education, gifted and talented, curriculum, human resources, student services (counseling and diversity), English language learners, food service, security, transportation, legal services, building maintenance, IT and more.
The district said it spends about 4 percent ($61 per student or $2 million) of the $714 million general fund on executive-level administration (chiefs and executive directors) in central administration. Further cuts to central services would not result in enough money to make meaningful compensation and staffing additions in schools and every cut reduces support to schools, the district website noted. Seventy percent of the general fund supports instruction in Jeffco schools.