Jeffco Board Member Amanda Stevens on Amendment 73, Mill, and Bond

On Thursday evening, August 23rd, our Jeffco Board of Education voted unanimously on a Resolution to support Amendment 73 as well as to place a bond issue and a mill levy override on the November ballot.

However, the thoughtful words of one of our board members were so strong that not only the audience, but also her fellow board members were in awe. Because her words were so inspiring, eloquent, and impactful, we wanted to take the time to share them in writing.

Here are the words of Jeffco Schools Board Member Amanda Stevens for your thoughtful consideration of the issues!

Amendment 73

The last time Colorado was at the national average in per pupil spending I was a Jeffco 3rd grader. I remember Jeffco’s middle school sports program being cut, just as I reached middle school.

How bad have things gotten since my 3rd grade year? Every year, for every child in our state, we invest about $2,500 less in their education than the average. The average. $2500 below a C is an F in my grade book. And it could get worse, but we have a chance to make it better!

Colorado schools have been swimming in a riptide for nearly 35 years now. So we swim harder, making new local investments once or twice a decade to try to keep students afloat. Still we find ourselves further from the national average seemingly with every stroke.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pull ourselves out of the riptide once and for all and get within steps of the shore.

Can we do it? 55% plus one vote is a big ask. But we are closer than we’ve ever been.

For years, superintendents across the state, from districts different from each other in a multitude of ways, have worked to create a shared vision for a modernized, student-centered funding formula based on real experience of what it takes to see students succeed. Amendment 73 coordinates and compliments it perfectly by design.

Education organizations, some of which only ever testify against each other on education bills at the state capital, have signed on together to show their support for the adequate, equitable student funding in 73.

Amendment 73 reached the ballot with well over 130,000 signatures from voters across the state, in every senate district, with a mostly volunteer effort.

73 is what Colorado students have waited for and it’s what they deserve.

Amendment 73 is designed to stabilize funding with a fair, nonburdensome way to pay for what’s needed. Coloradans already enjoy the 3rd lowest property tax rate in the nation, and 73 would give a small decrease in school property taxes before freezing the rate at 7%. Business property owners, farmers, and ranchers, whose rate is 4 times as high, would receive needed relief with a 5% property tax decrease on school property taxes. Every Colorado property owner would see school property tax rates that are lower than they currently pay.

Without this stabilization, any new local investment of mill levy dollars will be eroded, and the purposes our voters commit to are risked—in a strong economy as the assessment rate ratchets down and the state relies on the negative factor/BS factor to balance a constricted budget, and in a weakened economy like we all experienced in the Great Recession. Remember, that tool has cost Jeffco over $630 million in losses over ten years, and the across the state schools have lost $7.5 billion from Constitutional, voter-approved levels.

No Coloradan would have any income tax increase on the first $150,000 of taxable income. 92% of Colorado tax filers will see no income tax increase, while the 8% highest earners would invest a little more in the schools that prepare our communities’ citizens, workers, and leaders of the future. C-Corporations would see a very small tax increase after a year that delivered major tax decreases to them federally, and still Colorado would enjoy the 9th lowest corporate tax rate among the 44 states utilizing them.

This chance won’t come around again. We can say yes to an additional $1,609 per student in Jeffco:

  • To ensure great people will come and stay in our classrooms and schools in a state that now faces a critical teacher shortage.
  • To lower class sizes and address staff shortages—a key difference between us, and nations outperforming us in education outcomes. Enough educators to intervene, support, and help students thrive in critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, creativity—to thrive in a global, complex world by building the skills they’ll need and the life they want.
  • To ensure mental health supports for students in crisis, and to teach all students to build webs of supporting relationships and personal resilience.
  • To provide STEM and Arts and Career/Technical Education opportunities so every student finds a passion or life pursuit that can also provide a living.
  • To fill classrooms with tools and resources so learning is hands-on and alive.

Furthermore, the Colorado budget would have breathing room to invest in other suffering areas, like transportation, higher education—the costs of which burden families more than ever, and protections to tax relief for seniors on a fixed income.

Amendment 73 is what our Jeffco students have been waiting for, and it’s what they deserve.

Bond

So there’s aging gracefully, and then there’s what happens when a school district’s buildings hit an average age of 50 years old with long delays in making needed investment. Inequities exist, and the delays are borne on the shoulders of our students.

Our district facilities personnel have shown impressive expertise and improvisation. They have made due—keeping students warm, safe, and dry—on a shoestring budget. Thanks to them, Jeffco Public Schools has a proven track record of finishing promised work on-time and on-budget.

This organization has earned the trust of its taxpayers, and it’s time—past time—for Jeffco voters to provide this investment in their community assets, to carry our schools into the 21st century with parity and standards of educational quality for every student in every building.

Not every need will be met. This request represents less than half the $1.3 billion dollars of needs in Jeffco’s portfolio. But I know it is a package that represents priorities and values that matter to our community, and it will be managed by experts in their field with oversight from a team of external experts. Without this investment in Jeffco Public Schools’ facilities, critical needs will become a crisis. Jeffco needs to unite to win a 2018 Bond.

Mill Levy Override

When I used to have the time and inclination, I ran a few marathons. I used to joke that around mile 22 to 23, I’d finally hit the half way point of the race. (It’s a 26-mile race.) That’s because the last few miles are as hard or harder than the first 20 plus. What I’ve heard tonight is Jeffco wants to run a marathon. I believe our students today and into the future are worthy of the effort. But we can only make the final miles count toward crossing the finish line if we travel all those first miles. We need Amendment 73 so that a mill levy override can do the work we intend it to do. Or in 2 or 3 years, the purposes we set for these dollars will be diverted as we face the ongoing constraints that have forced us down a slide from the national average for decades.

With Amendment 73 but no mill levy override, we could become a world class training ground for teachers and staff who spend the majority of their careers in nearby districts that hire them away for more money.

With Amendment 73 we can expand early childhood education, but with no mill levy override we can’t create full day programs that are the only realistic option for working families.

With Amendment 73 we can invest in mental health and safety & security, but without a mill levy override the investment is incomplete. An incomplete investment in this area may be counted not just in dollars but in lives, lost to suicide or addiction or bullying or disconnecting and dropping out. Or worse; Jeffco has seen worse.

So, because I believe in collective wisdom, and more importantly in collective effort, and because I hear Jeffco asking to run this marathon, I’ll run it too. All three: Amendment 73, a bond, and a mill levy override.

I think we should keep in mind, this three-legged stool doesn’t stand strong if any piece is missing. Moreover, in addition to being a leg of the stool, Amendment 73 is in a very real way the floor under the stool too.

Let’s cross this finish line together on election night. 73, bond, and mill. Between now and then, we’ve got a lot of miles to cover together! Our students cannot wait any longer for this win!

Supporting all kids in Jefferson County Colorado