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School district hails passage of tax increase

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Measures 3A and 3B get solid support from Jeffco voters

By Gaby Zastrocky

Proponents of two property-tax increases that will enable Jeffco Public Schools to avoid sizable budget cuts were happy that the measures were approved by voters in the Nov. 6 election.

“I’m ecstatic,” said district Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “I’m thrilled, and I think it was teamwork and integrity (that won the election). … We told the truth. We said, ‘This is about kids. This is what’s going to happen.’ ”

School board member Laura Boggs, who had opposed the tax increase, said now that the election had passed, she wants the board to work on spending the additional funds responsibly.

“I’m excited about getting on with the conversation about how do we best use our resources for student achievement,” Boggs said. “How do we take those precious resources … and make sure we’re spending them in the best places? … My hope is that we don’t take some blind list and say, ‘OK, we’re going to fund this.’ My hope is that we fund things that are working.”

In unofficial final results, 58 percent of voters supported ballot measure 3A, while 41 percent voted against it; 54 percent voted for 3B, while 45 percent voted against it.

The two ballot measures will increase property taxes on a $250,000 home in Jefferson County by about $126 a year. The school district is paying off a bond issued in 1992 that will equate to $90 in property-tax savings for that same household, so the net tax increase will be about $36 per year.

Measure 3A, which is the property-tax increase that supports school operations, will generate an additional $39 million annually. Measure 3B will allow the district to borrow $99 million for building maintenance.

The district has cut $63 million from its operating budget over the last three years, and it cut another $15 million from the 2012-13 budget.

Advocates have said the $39 million that will be generated from 3A is crucial to keeping class sizes low and maintaining support staff for schools, such as assistant principals, teacher-librarians and educational coaches.

The $99 million the district will borrow as a result of 3B will go toward maintaining existing schools, not building new buildings, according to Stevenson.

Both issues, which were added to the ballot in the spring, faced organized opposition from nonprofit Jeffco Students First. Opponents said the district should be focusing on teacher pay reform, that declining enrollment and higher spending pointed to unwise financial management and — in a claim that has often been rebutted by district officials — that the district could save money by pushing for higher pension contribution rates from staff.

Stevenson pointed opponents to the district’s history of financial responsibility, especially after a property tax increase in 2004. The district used the voter-approved funds but also put money in a rainy-day fund that has prevented cuts in the last few years.

“We were strategic, we were smart, we protected our kids, and it’s been eight years,” Stevenson said. “Look at our track record.”

Contact Gaby Zastrocky at gabrielle@evergreenco.com or follow at Twitter.com/gabriellereport.