The Douglas County Board of Education recently approved two tax measures for additional funding on the November ballot. Now, the pressure is on. “To me, it would be devastating to lose this,” …
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The Douglas County Board of Education recently approved two tax measures for additional funding on the November ballot. Now, the pressure is on.
“To me, it would be devastating to lose this,” board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said at the Aug. 21 meeting in which the board voted to put the measures on the ballot. “It would literally be devastating.”
Added board member Krista Holtzmann: “We don't have the luxury of not passing this. We have to pass this.”
Following 2 ½ hours of impassioned pleas from teachers, bus drivers, parents and students during public comment at the meeting, the school board approved a bond and mill levy override recommended by Superintendent Thomas Tucker.
A $250 million bond would address building repairs in the district, and a $40 million mill levy override would go toward teacher pay and school programs. 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.
Peter and Maggie Bierbaum and their son Jake make up the steering committee for Bright Futures for Douglas Kids, a registered issue committee formed in April. During public comment, Maggie Bierbaum unraveled a thick stack of papers, each lined with rows of names of community members in support of the tax measures. The team collected 1,577 signatures.
"Tonight we are here to show you the community calls for such a measure," Maggie Bierbaum said.
The committee will be campaigning for the bond and mill levy override leading up to the November election.
The tax-measure discussion began last November, when voters elected 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.
Over the past eight months, school board members have stressed the need for additional funds at board meetings and work sessions. In late May, the board hired a research firm to survey 400 residents throughout the county on their views of the school district and funding. The majority of respondents indicated they would support a tax measure.
At a board meeting on Aug. 7, Tucker recommended one of three bond and mill levy override packages, put together by district staff, to the school board. The other options presented by staff were a $300 million bond and a mill levy override of $30 million or $50 million.
Lemieux questioned if the amount of the bond and mill levy override would address critical needs such as internal teacher pay gaps. Tucker maintained his philosophy of “reasonable requests at reasonable intervals,” which several community members and board members said they support.
“When I go home, I sleep well. I cannot sleep well if I'm asking for more money than I think we need,” Tucker said at the Aug. 21 meeting. “I want to be fair with our community. I want to be fair with our staff. My heart aches for everyone.”
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.
William Larson, principal of Ponderosa High School from 1985 to 2002, took the stand during public comment at the Aug. 21 meeting. If he were a principal today, he said, hiring the best teachers would be difficult.
“Over 17 years, I shared often that I had the best high school principal job in Colorado. I had the best students, the best parents, teachers, support and school board,” he said. “Much of this changed with a new school board. They did not choose to have a bond and mill levy override when needed.”
Dennis Houston, CEO of the Parker Chamber of Commerce, also took the stand to voice his overwhelming support for the tax measures. A portion of the mill levy override would go toward school programming, including vocational education.
“The Douglas County business community needs career and technical education,” Houston said. “We are in desperate need of plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics. We need thousands of I.T. professionals and engineers.”
Inadequate funding has created issues in district buildings. Schools are in need of between $303 million and $403 million in repairs, according to DCSD's Master Capital Plan.
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.
The decision will ultimately be in the hands of the voters. Election Day is Nov. 6.
“We have a lot of catching up to do,” parent Kelly Poynter said. “Give Douglas County voters a choice and let them decide this November.”
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