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Ballot initiative proponents show up in support of Jeffco Schools

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By Deborah Swearingen

A slight drizzle and unexpected chill didn’t stop a number of teachers, parents, school board members and staff from putting feet to the pavement Friday afternoon in support of Jeffco Public Schools’ ballot initiatives 5A and 5B and Amendment 73.

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Ballot initiatives 5A and 5B refer to a $600 million ask of Jeffco taxpayers in the form of a $567 million bond issue and a $33 million mill levy override. Amendment 73, previously known as Ballot Initiative 93 and the Great Schools, Thriving Communities initiative, could generate $1.6 billion annually for P-12 education in Colorado by raising income taxes for those whose annual income exceeds $150,000, increasing the corporate tax rate.

In an effort coordinated by the Jefferson County Education Association, groups representing nearby schools stood on a number of intersections along Wadsworth Boulevard, stretching from northern blocks near Wheat Ridge to southern blocks near Southwest Plaza.

Although there were undoubtedly some naysayers, most agreed their signs and cheers had been largely met with support. Indeed, honks of approval permeated the air all along the southern portion of Wadsworth where dozens of advocates gathered.

“I think we should have a sign that says: ‘If you honk, for God’s sake vote,’” joked Ron Mitchell, school board president and former Columbine High School principal, while standing at the intersection of South Wadsworth Boulevard and West Belleview Avenue on Friday.

“I’m here to support kids and support schools. … I think it’s an important election for Jefferson County,” Mitchell added, noting the need for improvements in safety, security and mental health. “ … There’s a great deal of inequity across our district. We do have some new and beautiful schools. We do. … But we have some that just need some improvement and updating.”

Prior reporting from the Courier indicates funds from the bond, if approved, would go toward school improvements, including replacing three elementary schools, including Marshdale Elementary in Evergreen; building two new schools in central Lakewood and the northwest suburbs; and constructing classroom additions at 23 other schools, including Parmalee, Wilmot and Powderhorn elementary schools, Bell Middle and Evergreen Middle, and both Columbine High and Conifer High.

Funds from the mill levy increase would be earmarked for teacher compensation, expansion of career/technical education, expansion of full-day kindergarten, increased school security and increased mental health support for students.

Patti MacLellan, a teacher at West Jefferson Middle School, agreed with Mitchell. MacLellan stood at the corner of Wadsworth and Quincy alongside other teachers from mountain-area schools. As a teacher for more than 40 years, MacLellan recognizes the role education plays in the future of students and the world.

“We have schools that need to be renovated. We need resources, textbooks. We need to be able to invite quality, high quality teachers to our district and be able to keep them there. We’ve got teachers leaving because we don’t have a competitive salary,” she said.

Teacher pay is a hot topic in Jeffco, and it was mentioned frequently by ballot initiative supporters on Friday. According to Great Education Colorado, the state ranks 50th in teacher wage competitiveness.

Despite this, the fight for additional funding is not always easy. Jeffco voters rejected a $535 million bond issue and $33 million mill levy override for Jeffco Public Schools in November 2016.

Brenda Johanson, a Columbine Hills Elementary School teacher, stood on the pedestrian bridge that crosses over Wadsworth Boulevard by Southwest Plaza. Johanson held a large sign in support of the ballot initiatives, while her co-worker, Sandra Baltazar, waved an American flag. They moved back and forth on the bridge, holding their signs in whatever direction guaranteed more eyes.

“We’re in desperate need of it passing this year,” Johanson said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.