We received the following amazing letter from a Jeffco parent. It’s too long for a Letter to the Editor submission (they require writers to use 300 words or less) but we think this is such an important conversation that we want to share it with you! Please read AND share!
Ballot measure 3A and 3B, why now?
When a fiscal conservative is asked to pay more in taxes, several questions begin to arise. The first question is why now and for what? Home owners have already seen property tax increases this year with the rise in home values. Shouldn’t this increase in property taxes cover the increase costs needed to run the district? What about the added excise tax revenue from marijuana sales? Why ask the more than 70% of the population in Jefferson County with no kids living in their house hold to pay for school related funding? These questions started when I learned about the first draft of the facilities master plan proposed to the Jefferson County School Board. This plan included the closure of several small community based elementary schools and the creation of a few larger elementary schools. The initial plan would not only close our school, Stober Elementary, but would have caused the once donated property on which it sits to be surpluses and sent to action. As a parent who specifically chose to buy a home in a neighborhood with one of these smaller community schools, I became curious as to why. The results I found were literally staring me right in the face.
One only needs to look at Stober to understand its currently aging state. The school was built in 1965 with an addition added in 1993 with very little updating since. In fact the average age on all Jeffco schools is an astounding 45 years old. This would not be a huge problem if these buildings would have been properly updated and maintained. However, with 3,100 acres and 12 million square feet of building space to maintain with an annual budget of only $51 million dollars to “maintain and operate” one can clearly do the math and begin to understand why maintenance much less improvements have been deferred. I know, $51 million annually sounds like more than enough to maintain buildings but that only allows $4.25 per square foot for building maintenance if you did not need to operate these facilities or maintain any of the acreage associated with the 169 campuses. Everyone should understand it takes a lot more to operate the heating and cooling systems, turn on the lights, power the computers, pay for custodial staff, and many other items needed to keep the doors open on campuses with a replacement value of $2.73 billion dollars. The facilities department is truly doing more with less and has “tightened the belt” as much as possible.
The issues with aging schools are not new to Jefferson County. Several bonds and mill levies have been proposed by the Jeffco school board in the past but were rejected by voters financially strained by economic conditions associated with the great recession in 2008. We are now reaching a critical time for action and the ability to renovate these facilities before they fall into a state of disrepair. At an average age of 45, this timeframe is coming fast and will leave the citizens of Jeffco with a much higher tax bill when the board is forced to tear down and completely rebuild. If we continue to deny funding for updating and maintaining facilities, the Jeffco School Board will be forced to close our small community schools and create mega campuses where 5-year olds will be forced to start their education in a building with 1,000 plus strangers. These larger campuses will cause the need for busing to rise and increase cost for parents trying to get kids across town to these new mega campuses. Researchers have shown large campuses are not beneficial and hinder early childhood education. Kids are overwhelmed, lost, and less confident in these types of settings. Jefferson County is very lucky to have invested in this small community based schools structure in the past and we must continue to provide this educational structure. Especially if we want parents of young children to continue buying older houses in these neighborhoods specifically so their children can be educated in one of these community based smaller schools. The closure of smaller schools also evokes an even larger strain on the Jeffco school board budget. The federal “first refusal” law would require these closed campuses to be first offered and sold to charter schools. Nothing against charter schools, but the board is mandated by law to financially support/budget funds to be spent on charter schools. As you can see, closing the small community schools is really not an option when there is no real budgetary relief in doing so. And finally, the ability to finance the funding from lending institutions is near or at record low interest levels. To prove this, I compared the cost to tax payers for the lowest proposed bond with mill levy initially requested by the facilities department to the highest bond with mill levy request. The information I researched on lending availability was confirmed when I reviewed the numbers. The yearly payment difference between these two bonds with mill levy proposed was only $5.81 per hundred thousand dollar home value. Based on the average price of a Jefferson County home, the difference is $17.43 per year. Yes, as a fiscal conservative I would much rather wait until the board has the money up front, but realistically the board does not have that kind of time to accrue this level of funding. Schools are getting old, and more and more people are moving into Jefferson County. The time is now.
Again, as a fiscal conservative who wants to see exactly what we as a community are getting for our tax dollars I researched and found the capital improvement plan outlining where all of the $535 million for the bond and the $33 million on the mill levy will be spent. You can see exactly where the money is going by reviewing these online documents… http://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/fmp/bond_summary.pdf
I am satisfied to have reviewed these documents and can account as to where every dollar will be spent.
Shouldn’t property tax increases and the marijuana taxes take care of the district’s needs?
Again, after looking into how the Jeffco school district is budgeted one can clearly see where the short fall of this argument is found. Unfortunately, our State representatives continue to under fund school districts with what is commonly called the “negative factor”. The “negative factor” is the difference in funding promised to school districts minus what is actually received. The rise in property taxes has allowed our State representatives to increase the “negative factor” keeping our funding to school districts constant with no increase realized from the increase in property taxes. While school districts across Colorado have joined together to lobby legislatures, efforts continue to yield little if any results.
The marijuana funds argument is not even relevant. Last year only $60 million dollars were available for capital projects for all school districts across Colorado. Even if Jeffco received all of the money allocated to capital investments from this tax, Jeffco would still fall $508 million dollars below the current needs to update our schools and attract quality educators. Most of these limited funds are petitioned by and sent to impoverished areas around the state for good reason. For more information on this, please read the article written by Chris Stiffler, titled: ‘Why pot taxes can’t solve Colorado’s budget problems’. http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/12/why-pot-taxes-cant-solve-colorados-budget-problems/
Why ask the majority of Jefferson County citizens with no kids to pay for school related funding?
This is a very important question and common among the over 70% of households with no children. The benefit of having a strong school system with neighborhood schools also benefits these citizens as well. These schools, if updated, will continue to attract home buyers to existing neighborhoods with older homes. Property values will be maintained and increased as an updated school will show stability and guarantee their availability to the community for several years. The open space provided by many of these campuses are utilized for public meeting space, open space for outdoor recreation, voting places, and countless other community based events that take place within a neighborhood. Also, many of these residents did at one time have kids in public schools. They also need the support and asked older residents in those times to help in the civic duty of providing a sound education for all within the community. As parents, we are simply asking for the same level of civic duty and community based support for this generation. As we age, we must continue to step up financially to educate those community members we will rely on in the future.
There is no doubt the Jeffco School Board is asking for a lot, but this is the result of our own doing. We can no longer continue to push the problem down the road. It is time to act by supporting 3A and 3B. We must make salaries competitive to stop the mass exodus of high quality teachers. We must provide updated learning tools in a safe and secure environment. I simply ask all citizens of Jeffco to please look at the facts, ask questions, and come to the realizations we must fully support the educational needs of our kids and our communities. Thank you for your time.