With declining enrollment and declining academic achievement, both exacerbated by the pandemic, the Jeffco Public School’s Board of Education meeting on Nov. 10 was rough. Superintendent Tracy Dorland had two review items on the agenda: an assessment of academic functions performed by consultant Jaime Aquino, Ph.D., and the 2018 capital improvement mid-program assessment performed by Moss Adams, LLP. These assessments were performed to help Dorland identify where Jeffco Schools is functioning well and what needs improvement, in an effort to better aid her work forward.
While the review of academic functions found Jeffco has staff willing to do the work and take on the challenge of providing the best for Jeffco students, the structure to make that happen is sorely lacking. Specific issues were outlined to build up the structure, and in several parts it was noted that processes were not in the best interest of students.
The Moss Adams report on the 2018 capital improvement program highlighted, among other things (and note Jeffco is only three years into the six-year bond program):
- Over half of the completed projects were over budget, and 19 percent of the completed projects were over budget by at least $500,000. In total, of the completed projects, Jeffco has spent $46.9 million over budget.
- The Capital Asset Advisory Committee, made up of community members appointed by Board of Education directors, is supposed to oversee the spending of the capital program, yet they have never been given the authority or information to do a detailed analysis of the program.
- Information provided to the public needs to show all costs and changes to each project, tying back to what voters were told costs would be when they voted for the bond.
- Bond premium and interest, extra money earned due to favorable economic conditions, which has added $118 million, was not brought to the Board of Education to decide what should be done with these additional funds. Which projects the community, through public comment, could have input on. Instead, it was put to projects unilaterally decided by the Facilities and Construction Management team.
On top of all that, the last item on the agenda was enrollment and budgeting. Not only did Jeffco lose more students than expected, but the 2021-2022 approved budget had $43 million more in revenue than it should have. Now corrected, Jeffco will be deficit spending this year. In the end, for the 2021-2022 school year, the budget shows $36.6 million more in expenses than revenues. The Financial Oversight Committee, community members appointed by Board of Education directors, stated this deficit spending is unsustainable. For enrollment, six years ago Jeffco had 86,700 students. Right before the pandemic there were 84,000 students and this year Jeffco’s unaudited number is 78,480. That’s a loss of 8,220 students. This is a direct loss of revenue to the district.
Jeffco Public Schools needs a rebuild. If we aren’t honest with ourselves about where we are currently, we can’t improve. If we don’t take responsibility for where we are, we can’t do better. These reports were brought to the Board of Education, signaling that Jeffco has a lot of work ahead to be the district it once was.
So, what can we do? It is our job as community members to help the school board be successful for the sake of this generation of students who already have so many strikes against them that started four years ago … a failed strategic plan, remote learning, and now saddled with mental health issues from the last nearly two years of the pandemic that have affected their social worlds. We parents and community members must hold this board accountable for staying on track to fix these issues. If you have ideas that could help this board be successful for our children, write to them or speak at a board meeting during public comment. Keep in touch with the progress they are making and hold them accountable if they aren’t moving forward.
Jeffco School District is faced with rebuilding. Superintendent Dorland is up for the task before her. Together we can all help Jeffco be the strong district it once was.
The Board of Education Nov. 10 meeting agenda and presentation documents can be found at http://go.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=C7ZLXT58BAFA
Board Member contact information can be found at https://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/about/board/board_members. There is also a general email address and physical address at the bottom of that page.
Katherine Rickard is a Jefferson County parent.