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Ballot measure eliminates irrelevant tax issue

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By Matt Gunn

Among the countywide items on this year’s November ballot is a measure to repeal what the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education considers an extraneous and under-utilized tax.

The district says a “yes” vote on 3A will have no financial impact on voters.

“We don’t gain or lose; voters don’t gain or lose,” said Cindy Stevenson, Jeffco superintendent.

The “performance promise,” which was approved by voters in 1999, was initially meant to reward the school district for meeting progressive goals in Colorado Student Assessment Program scores. Through a mill levy, Jeffco could earn up to $35.8 million over four years.

The district met the performance process goals up to the 2001-02 school year. Because of changes in CSAP implementation since that time, the school board now believes the measure to be out of date.

“The way to think about it is, it’s a housekeeping measure,” Stevenson said. “It doesn’t help or hurt the school district; it doesn’t help or hurt the homeowner; it just lowers the authorized mill levy.”

The mill levy was authorized to kick in only when the performance promise was met. It was originally based on scores in seven CSAP tests. Since then, Stevenson said, the tests have expanded to more than 20.

The “all-or-nothing” tax measure became less attainable with the changes in testing.

“It’s the apples and oranges thing,” said Lynn Setzer, Jeffco communications director. “What we were asking for in 1999 we could never get today.”

Jeffco Public Schools earned $10.8 million in the program’s first two years. The district did not meet the goal in the 2002-03 school year.

“We had to reach 66 percent proficient or advanced,” Setzer said. “We didn’t meet that.”

The program did not award students who improved from the unsatisfactory to partially satisfactory benchmark. When the district did not meet its 2002-03 goal, some speculated the yearly improvement goals were set too high.

“If you look at the original commitment with the eight tests that we had, we have made the original commitment,” Stevenson said. “But the way the ballot language was written, it goes up 3 percent a year, and it’s all or nothing.”

Based on the eight-test formula, the performance promise was meant to hold the district to a 25 percent increase in academic achievement over four years.

But now that the factors have changed, the measure is taking away from Jeffco’s potential in voter-approved tax money.

“We have a cap, and our cap is $119.7 million,” Setzer said. “That’s the most that we could at least this year go to voters and say, give us $119.7 million under this mill levy.”

If 3A is passed, it essentially does nothing to affect taxpayers. Because the mill levy kicked in only when the district met the now-obsolete performance promise, there is almost no potential for those taxes to kick in again.

If successful, 3A allows Jeffco to put tax-based initiatives on future ballots.

“It’s really a way of making it crystal clear we’re taking it off the books and freeing up that $9.2 million that some future date the district can go ask for, with voter approval, of course,” Setzer said.

Contact Matt Gunn at matt@evergreenco.com.