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Jeffco Schools puts $600 million bond and mill package on ballot

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By Sal Christ

Taxpayers will see a $600 million ask from Jeffco Public Schools on the ballot this November after the school board voted last week in favor of pursuing a $567 million bond issue and a $33 million mill levy override this fall.
In a decision that came after more than an hour of public comment Aug. 23 and applause from meeting attendees, board members said the ballot measures were long overdue and called upon voters to invest in their local schools by voting for them.
Per district estimates, the annual tax impact of the bond issue would be about $22 per $100,000 of home value and the annual tax increase of the mill levy override would be about $25 per $100,000 of value; if both measures are approved, annual residential property taxes would increase by about $47 per $100,000 of value. The owner of a home valued at $300,000, for example, would pay about $141 more in property taxes each year.
In addition to placing the bond and mill levy override questions on the ballot, the board formally endorsed Amendment 73 — previously known as Ballot Initiative 93 and the Great Schools, Thriving Communities initiative — which 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 by 1.37 percent and changing how residential property taxes are assessed for schools.
While board members acknowledged community concerns about the bond and mill package competing with Amendment 73, they drilled down on the idea that Jeffco will still need additional funding to compete with neighboring districts, regardless of whether Amendment 73 passes.  
Funds from the bond 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.
    
District stretched ‘way too thin’
“This is really essential,” said board treasurer Brad Rupert about the bond issue. “We are replacing carpets that are much older than the children in the schools walking on them. We are replacing furniture that’s much older than maybe some of the parents of the children that are sitting in those chairs. This is a modest ask for a district our size, and it is well past overdue. … I think it’s time for the voters to stop trying to get more from less and less every year. We need to make the investment in our schools.”
Fellow board member Susan Harmon echoed Rupert’s sentiments, stating that the district was stretched “way too thin” when it comes to building inequities.
“We have been doing great things on way too little,” she said. “We are stretched way too thin, and what I see happening in every building I have been in is those inequities (between schools) are growing because we haven’t been able to adequately address them because of all the other needs happening in our schools and our changing populations.”
Board President Ron Mitchell, too, urged community members to “step up” and vote for both the bond issue — which is largely targeted at facilities’ needs — and the mill levy override, which is aimed at increasing teacher and staff compensation, among other things.
    
Monitoring by citizen oversight committee
In a shift from the district’s previous pursuit of a bond and mill package in 2016, Jeffco Public Schools has included accountability provisions in its pursuit of both measures this year. According to district documents, funding usage from both the bond issue and the property tax increase would not only be subject to annual, external audit but would also be monitored by a citizen oversight committee.
Furthermore, the district would be barred from using funds from either measure for senior district administration.
The bond funds would also go toward creating a career technology facility like Warren Tech in the southern part of the school district, upgrading technology at the schools, replacing carpet and furnishings, and more.

Voters rejected Jeffco’s last bond and mill package in 2016
The school district last pursued a bond and mill package in 2016, campaigning in favor of funding for increased teacher compensation and facilities needs that some in the community felt were unnecessary, including school renovations, classroom additions, second gymnasiums and more.
At the time, a number of Jeffco community members — including former Jeffco school board member Laura Boggs — publicly voiced their opposition to the measures.
Ultimately, both measures were defeated at the ballot box with more than 50 percent of voters rejecting both the proposed $535 million bond and the proposed $33 million mill levy override.