Douglas County superintendent backs school tax measures

Community members make plea for additional funding

Posted 8/8/18

New Douglas County School District Superintendent Thomas Tucker has formally announced his support for two tax measures to address funding needs. Later this month, the Douglas County Board of …

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Douglas County superintendent backs school tax measures

Community members make plea for additional funding

Posted

New Douglas County School District Superintendent Thomas Tucker has formally announced his support for two tax measures to address funding needs.

Later this month, the Douglas County Board of Education will vote on whether to approve putting the tax measures on the November ballot. 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.

“This is about our students and about all of our support staff. We can do better, we will do better,” Tucker said at the Aug. 7 school board meeting in Castle Rock. “Perhaps we will have an opportunity in the first week of November to do better.”

At the meeting, more than a dozen parents and teachers took the stand during public comment, pleading for the school board to put on the ballot a bond measure, which would address building repairs in the district, and a mill levy override, which would go toward teacher pay and school programs.

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.

Lack of funding has also created issues at school buildings. District schools are in need of between $303 million and $403 million in repairs, according to DCSD's Master Capital Plan.

“It's been 12 years since our school district has passed a bond and MLO (mill levy override) and the need becomes more apparent with each passing day,” parent Darien Wilson said during public comment.

Parent Meg Masten said, “We will work tirelessly to educate and inform the community at large of the value this will bring to all.”

Tucker recommended one of three bond and mill levy override packages, put together by district staff, to the school board. That recommendation calls for a $250 million bond and a $40 million mill levy override. The other options were a $300 million bond and a mill levy override of $30 million or $50 million.

Board members will vote on the recommendation at an Aug. 21 meeting beginning at 6 p.m. at the district's administrative building, 620 Wilcox St., Castle Rock. Tax measures have been a hot topic since the school board election last November, when voters chose 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.

School board members have emphasized the need for additional funds at board meetings and work sessions.

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.

After spending his first month in Douglas County talking to students, parents and staff about needs, Tucker felt the recommended approach was the most reasonable.

“My philosophy is this, we are never going to ask for money unless we need it,” Tucker said. “We don't want to ask our community members for more than what we need, and we don't want to ask them for less than what we need.”

Board members raised concerns about the amount of the recommended mill levy override, which landed in the middle of the three options presented by district staff. Some questioned whether it would fully close pay gaps for all employees, including licensed teachers and classified workers, such as bus drivers.

“Will it further our goal of recruiting and retaining outstanding educators and staff?” board member Krista Holtzmann asked.

Tucker said the amount would “begin to close pay gaps for everyone.” But salaries would not be as competitive as neighboring school districts, Scott Smith, the district's chief financial officer, said over the phone at the board meeting.

Board member Kevin Leung said he appreciated Tucker's “cautious approach.”

“This must pass, otherwise it's going to be a disaster,” he said. “I understand why you put a conservative number in there.”

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