Douglas County Schools

School funding ballot measure gaining support

Voters may not be asked to raise taxes until 2018

Posted 3/8/17

The often-divided Douglas County School District community is rallying in favor of a common idea: raising taxes.

"This is a first for me," said board of education President Meghann Silverthorn. …

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Douglas County Schools

School funding ballot measure gaining support

Voters may not be asked to raise taxes until 2018


The often-divided Douglas County School District community is rallying in favor of a common idea: raising taxes.

"This is a first for me," said board of education President Meghann Silverthorn. "I've had citizens approach me and say 'Hey, I want taxes,' and I don't just mean the usual folks who have always wanted an increase, I mean conservatives who say 'I hate taxes, but it's clear to me that we can't compete or the district needs more money.' "

But while some in the community were pushing to get a mill levy override and/or a bond issue on this year's ballot, a joint committee commissioned by the school board to study the issue is recommending to hold off on that until 2018.

The panel - which comprises members of the District Accountability Committee, Long Range Planning Committee and Fiscal Oversight Committee - issued that advice at the school board's March 7 meeting.

"Doing it right is vastly more important than doing it now," said Brad Geiger, a member of the joint committee and the chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee.

In recent years, the district has faced funding shortages and rising capital needs at schools across the district. In 2015, the Long Range Planning Committee - a group of community members and parents who study the district's capital needs - estimated the cost at $275.1 million for current and future projects over five years. The committee identified the following major areas of need: facility reinvestment $133.6 million; technology, $53 million; and new construction to accommodate growth, $38.8 million.

Committee members - whose recommendation is not a binding decision that the school board is required to follow - said one benefit of waiting until 2018 is that the ballot will include the governor's race, which likely will increase voter turnout. Also, waiting a year would provide time to gather community support. In addition, they concluded it was best to not ask the community for a tax increase during the school board election in 2017, as it would become a campaign issue.

All seven school board members agree on the need to ask taxpayers for more money, but some questioned if the need was too great to wait until 2018. One of those was Steve Peck.

"I support the idea that we should have a mill levy override," Peck said. "What I'm not certain of is the timing."

Board member David Ray, who had expressed some reservations about waiting until 2018, decided to support the recommendation of holding off a year. He said a tax measure is "long overdue" and that its importance to the community is paramount.

"It has been proven many times over that the investment in the school system has a direct correlation on the success of the surrounding community - including quality of life, economic stability, property values and the success of our learners," Ray said.

Meg Masten, a community member who helped organize a town hall event regarding district budget issues in February, said "long term, a bond or mill levy is the only way to solve our funding issue."

Masten supports waiting until 2018 to put a measure on the ballot.

"We need at least 12 months to gain the support needed to get it passed," Masten said. "There just isn't enough time."

Jason Virdin of the group Douglas County Parents, which advocates for parents and students in the district, also agreed with the 2018 timetable.

"Until the state begins funding schools adequately, school districts will be forced to seek funding locally," he said. "Passing a bond will require a significant community outreach effort, community trust and a unified school board."

Douglas County residents said no the past two times school-funding issues made the ballot.

The community voted down a $200 million bond issue in 2011 that would have gone toward building three new schools in Castle Rock and Parker and a $29 million mill levy override that would have provided funding for instructional expenses and pay-for-performance for teachers.

In 2008, Douglas County voters rejected a $395 million bond issue and a $17 million mill levy override to support building new schools, improving student achievement, recruiting and retaining the workforce and improving the district's technological advances in the face of expanded enrollment.

The official decision on when and if to send funding measures to the ballot will be made by the school board.

Silverthorn, who has not stated whether she supports 2017 or 2018 for the tax measure, agrees with the idea that the community needs to present a united front in order to garner support from prospective voters, saying "we prove to people we will be wise with their money."

"We have to have a conversation as a community about how we unite around the idea that we need money for our schools," she said, "and not throw bombs in such a way that it doesn't help that end."


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Neighborhood Parent

It was painfully obvious last night that 2 directors wanted to place the ballot for this election year, to drive out their base (the anti-tax vote) to help with an election campaign. This would be a travesty. President Silverthorn could have allowed an amended agenda to happen, for all to weigh in, but she chose the delay tactic, to presumably see what Leadership Program of the Rockies wants her, Steve Peck and Judi Reynolds to do.

There is a glimmer of hope. Director Geddes agreed with the 2018 timeline based on the presentation. If he changes his mind, you will know that the majority BoE care more about their power than doing what is right for DCSD.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Kristen Hirsch

I so appreciate your coverage of the DCSD BOE meetings - before I attended my first one on 3/7/17, this paper was my primary resource for information on these meetings. I also made my first public comment Tuesday night, in support of a 2018 ballot initiative, as did every single other commenter who spoke on this issue. The 100% agreement with the UNANIMOUS Joint Subcommittee's recommendation that was presented to the BOE after the overwhelming support from

the public to begin educating Doug Co voters NOW on our dire school funding needs so we can succeed in 2018 was remarkable. Directors Lemieux, Ray, and Vogel, after asking pertinent questions about the cost associated with waiting until 2018, all accepted and supported the recommendation made by the Joint Subcommittee. This committee is comprised of volunteers from the community, some of whom have children currently enrolled in the district and others who don't, and some who routinely support taxpayer funding of schools and others who don't. The fact that this diverse group, along with every single commenter who took a position on this issue implored the board to get behind a 2018 initiative and to do it now to maximize the amount of time for education and coalition-building was incredibly powerful. I regret that the rest of the Board members were not willing to publicly support and accept their committee's recommendation or recognize that every single person who made the time and the trip to attend the meeting wholeheartedly agreed. I believe the BOE's role os to put students first and represent their constituents; putting an initiative on the 2017 ballot guarantees its failure. And not coincidentally, it's likely that the voters who only vote when there is a tax increase on the ballot in order to defeat it will support the tone-deaf majority BOE members up for their first election Neither Dir. Geddes not Dir. Peck was elected, and neither have any children enrolled in the district, so they do not see the immense needs of our children's schools as the parents who drop off, pick up, volunteer, speak with their child's teacher, and engage their children in conversations about their school days every evening do. But they are politically savvy and march to the same public education-unfriendly drummer funded by out-of-state donors. That's definitely not in the best interests of our children, schools, or community.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Two in school

Until the bloated administration of the District gets corrected, they quit using scare tactics and they become fiscally prudent in management of their budgets, a override levy will not pass. I believe most people see the need for capital projects. But, the crying for more operating money has to stop. They have $80 million in reserves and have made decisions regarding the TABOR reserve to put cash in the investment funds instead of using a letter of credit, which most fiscally prudent businesses would do. Spend your money wisely!

Thursday, March 9, 2017
Marco Fields

As a member of the DCSD Joint Subcommittee that put forward these recommendations on Tuesday evening I can tell you that it was hard.

This Joint Subcommittee was unique. It was made up of a broad based of 4 DCSD Board Of Education committees including the Long Range Planning Committee, District Accountability Committee, Fiscal Oversight Committee and the Student Advisory Comittee. It also included community volunteers and often in attendance- hearing the SAME information everyone else was were Board Of Education members that were liaisons as well as district leadership.

What this means to the Douglas County community? This difficult decision was a well researched, highly informed, thoughtfully analyzed and thoroughly debated issue. There were diverse opinions varying backgrounds high levels of expertise and outspoken voices that came together and worked diligently collaboratively and at times through heated contention in order to make this critical recommendation. I will say again, this was hard.

WHO looks at a bleeding child (i.e. our DCSD) and say's, "We'll bandage him/her up later."? It FEELS completely counterintuitive- right? Counterintuitive until you understand the facts that formed the JS recommendations to allow the child to keep bleeding until we wouldn't try to bandage it with a sticky note or worse a thumbtack.

If the board recommends a 2017 ballot initiative it simple won't pass. That's the sticky note. Nice try but not helpful. The disaster is the thumbtack affect that allows party politics to dominate education further fracturing trust in the community. 2017 also simply doesn't allow enough time for the grass roots efforts needed of hundreds of community/student volunteers to organize and mobilize to educate voters of the needs within the districts. Lastly, but certainly of undeniable importance, alignment of board members and confidence in district leadership. SO, all this said, the thumbtack affect further wounds an already hurt and bleeding community and those who suffer most are our teachers and students. They deserve better. They deserve a fresh large gauze wrap and some Neosporin.

As a voting member of the DCSD DAC and someone who was eyes on during this process I would simply encourage the community to look at all the information before you form your opinion. You are obviously entitled to come your own conclusion. I may respectfully debate that conclusion with you- but at least you informed :-)!

Here is are links some may find helpful for more information.

Thank you for allowing me to share.

Always my best,

Marco Mariah Fields

Communications DCSD DAC

Thursday, March 9, 2017