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Jeffco Public Schools likely to put bond issue on November ballot

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District still weighing proposed property tax increase

By Sal Christ

Taxpayers in Jefferson County will likely see a bond issue from Jeffco Public Schools on their November ballots after the Jeffco school board formally directed Superintendent Jason Glass and other district officials June 11 to bring a proposed bond package to the board later this summer.

Discussed during the board’s study session, the decision largely stems from several weeks of community discussions and feedback from an April telephone poll, as well as a survey conducted in May — all aimed at assessing community climate, including whether community members and district employees felt the district needs more funding.

According to data presented by Glass, respondents to both the survey and the telephone poll overwhelmingly said they felt the district needs additional funding — particularly for safety and security improvements, building maintenance issues, improved technology access and more vocational education for students.

Of the 2,068 survey respondents — of whom most were either current employees or the parent/guardian of student — more than 75 percent strongly agreed that the district needs more funding and an average of 70.4 percent said they would support a ballot question for either construction costs or ongoing operational expenses.

Of the 400 registered voters polled for Jeffco by Public Opinion Strategies, 65 percent said school funding needed to be increased, 68 percent said teacher compensation levels falls short and nearly 100 percent stated that career- and college-readiness education, as well as school safety, should be top spending priorities for the district. Those polled were mostly white voters with a 30-30 split between Democrats and Republicans and 40 percent independent or other party affiliation. Furthermore, 88 percent of those polled didn’t have anyone in the household who worked for Jeffco Public Schools.

While Glass acknowledged that both the survey and the poll data account for a very narrow scope of taxpayers, he said he felt the information was still valuable because it reflects the wants and needs of its employees and immediate community.

“If the people that are parents or who have a direct connection to Jeffco Public Schools — or your employees — are not supportive and excited about a potential bond/mill (package) or Ballot Initiative 93 questions, then that’s a key point for us to step back and ask more questions,” he said.

Board members, in return, were supportive of a pursuing a bond issue with the caveat that the district shouldn’t ask for more than it needs.

“I think we have to be careful as a board not to ask for everything and the kitchen sink,” said board treasurer Brad Rupert. “We have to be pretty targeted to the things that the poll is indicating we have support for. I think there are things that are absolutely sellable — the basics, the HVAC, the roof, the things that keep the building safe, warm and dry. … I don’t want to put a bond out there that I’m not confident we can win.”

Fellow board member Ali Lasell and board president Ron Mitchell echoed Rupert’s concerns and suggested that the district “be smart about the thresholds” and analyze the costs of pursuing the bond, as well as the needs the bond issue would target.

Though the amount of the bond issue remains undetermined, previous discussions earlier this year indicated a number as high as $647 million over six years.
    
Decision on property tax increase hangs on Ballot Initiative 93 outcome

While the district’s pursuit of a bond issue is probable, the decision to move forward with a mill levy override question is dependent upon whether organizers behind Ballot Initiative 93 — also known as the “Great Schools, Thriving Communities” initiative — collect enough voter signatures before July 11 to get it on the ballot in November.

The initiative proposes to increase the corporate tax rate in Colorado by 1.37 percent, increase income taxes for people whose annual income totals more than $150,000, and change how residential property taxes are assessed for schools — all in a bid to provide more state funding for P-12 public education.

Spearheaded by Great Education Colorado, the initiative could provide the state with $1.6 billion for education, but with the caveat that the Colorado General Assembly would have to enact a new school finance act that meets certain criteria in order to implement the measure — including an increased minimum level of per-pupil funding that’s based first on pupil count and then increased depending on a wide range of factors; a more equitable distribution of state funds between school districts; and more.

Mitchell said that should the measure successfully make it on the ballot, the district would need to discuss whether to support the measure or pursue a property tax increase of its own — a course of action which voters may reject.

A final decision on both a bond issue and a property tax increase is expected later this summer.

Contact reporter Sal Christ at  sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035. Follow her on Twitter @decriture.