School district to pursue bond issue of up to $535 million

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Property-tax hike also will be on November ballot

By Sal Christ

In an effort to fund its facilities master plan and other initiatives, the Jeffco school board decided last Thursday to put a bond issue of up to $535 million on the November ballot, as well as pursue a property-tax increase of between 3.69 and 4.31 mills. 

The decision came after the board voted to adopt a facilities master plan that not only shuffles sixth-graders from elementary schools to middle schools but also removes from consideration closures and consolidations of several schools and envisions renovations and repairs at others. 

Though some elements of the facilities plan depend on voter approval of the bond and/or tax hike in November, moving sixth-graders to middle schools likely will begin during the 2017-18 academic year.

Bond amount to be decided in August

While the board committed to a range for the property-tax increase it will seek, it opted to postpone a formal decision on the bond amount after several members expressed concern over how much voters would be willing to approve.

“I want to have a package that can win with voters,” said board member Amanda Stevens. “… I can’t fathom that we have a bond package that is general-fund-neutral. … We have one to three new schools coming up, and those will have costs associated with them. I want to make sure we plan for that.” 

Steve Bell, chief operations officer for the district, recommended surveying voters over the summer to “get a good handle” on what they might be willing to approve. The board must finalize the language of the bond issue and mill levy 55 days before the November election to get both on the ballot.  

While three different bond packages and a range of mill-levy options are being considered, the board favored the $535 million bond issue and would like to limit the combined impact on monthly residential property taxes to $10 to $12, which would generate $20 million to $30 million in revenue annually. 

The board will revisit both issues and decide on exact amounts in August. 

Bond issue to address facilities issues

Should voters approve the district's bond issue in the amount of $535 million, the money largely would go toward improvements at schools across the district — to address grade reconfiguration, areas of growth, or to make more efficient use of space. 

The bond proceeds would fund classroom additions and wings to accommodate moving sixth-graders to middle schools; new turf for some sports fields; renovations; and non-specified deferred maintenance.

Schools in South Jeffco that will benefit from the bond issue include Ken Caryl and Summit Ridge middle schools, Powderhorn Elementary, and Chatfield, Columbine and Dakota Ridge high schools. In addition to classroom additions to accommodate reconfiguration of grades, many of the schools would undergo renovations, get new turf on sports fields and receive deferred maintenance. District-wide deferred maintenance under the $535 million bond package is projected to total $35 million. 

Tax hike would fund compensation, mental health support 

The proposed property-tax increase would generate funds for improved compensation for district employees, an increased number of counselors in schools and more. 

In a bid to boost its competitiveness with neighboring school districts, revenue from the tax boost would provide $12.6 million in compensation for district employees, maintaining current salary schedules while budgeting $6.8 million in step increases for licensed staff; $1.2 million in levels for licensed staff; $3 million for step increases for classified employees; and an increase for administrators totaling $1.6 million.

Another $4 million of the revenue would pay for part-time counselors at every elementary school in the district. 

The district also could use some of the revenue for technology improvements, charter schools, increases in student-based budgeting and several other areas. 

Pay, budget challenges, aging facilities cited

The proposed property-tax increase and bond issue are the latest chapter in efforts by the school district to address compensation issues, budget constraints and aging facilities. 

In April, the district introduced a facilities master plan that called for closure of two schools in Golden and Lakewood, consolidation and merging of five elementary schools in north Arvada, replacement of eight buildings and funding for deferred maintenance at schools.

The original two-phase, 13-year plans were estimated to cost the district more than $600 million, plus deferred maintenance costs of $240 million. At the time, Superintendent Dan McMinimee said those estimates were in current dollars and would likely be higher during the second phase.

The district held 12 community meetings, two call-in town hall meetings and heard public comment from dozens of parents and concerned citizens at school board meetings. While many community members seemed to support reconfiguring the grades, others were opposed to school closures and consolidations. 

During the same time period, the district and its employee unions — the Jeffco Education Association and the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association — negotiated contracts, which were ratified in May and approved by the school board on June 2. The agreements increased wages for district employees but left a pay-for-performance policy for teachers largely intact. 

Contact reporter Sal Christ at sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035.