PARKER — Douglas County voters will be asked in November if they want to approve two school funding measures — a $60 million factory tax waiver and a $450 million bond measure.
The Douglas County School District School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to place the two on the next ballot.
The $450 million bond measure would be used to build three new elementary schools, expand two existing middle schools, and maintain and improve the district’s current 111 buildings. Of the 111 buildings owned by the district, 89 are schools.
“It would be an obligation without a tax increase. So that means there will be no net change in what people pay in taxes for the bond,” Superintendent Erin Kane said.
Douglas County Bond Question
Bonds are loans that the district takes out on behalf of ratepayers and are repaid over time. If the measure does not pass, due to the way the previous bond was structured in the district, taxpayers would actually see a decrease in their taxes.
Due to growth, the three elementary schools would be built at Sterling Ranch just west of Highlands Ranch, Crystal Valley in Castle Rock, and the Canyons off of Castle Pines Parkway. Sierra Middle School and Mesa Middle School, meanwhile, would be expanded.
About $140 million would go to maintaining and bringing buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, while $54.5 million would go to expanding vocational and technical training courses.
Some of that money would be used for the old Lincoln Offshore Wildlife Experience Building, which is now the legacy campus. It is being converted into a vocational and technical education center for the district and will partner with surrounding colleges.
Cancellation of factory fee
The second issue voters will face in November is a $60 million annual tax waiver that will come in the form of higher property taxes for homeowners.
The money will be used for teacher and staff salary increases in an effort to make Douglas County more competitive with other school districts in the region.
“We want our children to be exceptional. And for that to happen, we need to have exceptional people in our classrooms. It’s really tough when our teachers can drive down the street to earn an extra $18,000 a year,” said school board member Elizabeth Hanson.
The factory tax waiver would result in a 9% increase for teachers, a 9% increase for support staff and a 6% increase for principals and vice-principals.
Kane says the district is struggling to recruit and retain teacher assistants who help supervise children with special needs.
“They can earn a lot more by going to a local fast food restaurant. We struggle with campus security specialists, we lack a number of guards in our schools, our bus drivers, our mechanics. So really on every level,” Kane said.
The factory tax waiver would increase taxes by about $255 a year for the average homeowner, or, as Kane puts it, about $5 a week for a home costing $500,000.
Hanson says that by passing this, the community would send a message to educators that they appreciate the value they add to the community and are ready to reward them for the professionals they are.
“One of my son’s teachers leaves every day, packs his things and goes to work at Home Depot because he is unable to support his family on the compensation he receives. My daughter’s school lost a kindergarten teacher mid-year because she could make more money working in a swimming pool,” Hanson said. “It’s not right to expect the professionals we have in our district to have to work two or three jobs to support their families.”
Support teachers and schools
Douglas County Federation President Kevin DiPasquale supports both mandating and waiving the mill fee and hopes the community will vote for them.
“It’s really about coming together and doing what’s best for public education, not just doing what’s best for students,” DiPasquale said.
However, he says, while the raises will improve conditions for employees, they won’t completely solve the problems, especially when it comes to the retention of educators.
“Douglas County used to be a place where people were clamoring to come to work, to come to live. And now people were crying out. Nine percent will help slow the bleeding, but it won’t stop it,” DiPasquale said. “It is truly disheartening to see that public education is not supported in the same way other districts tend to support their school district and community.”
He would like to see the district school board and county commissioners come together to show their public support for the measures.
Hanson agrees that replacing the factory tax won’t solve all of the district’s funding issues for staff, but says they have to start somewhere, and that will take time to fix.
Right problem, wrong time
While former school board member Kevin Leung agrees the issues raised in the link are important, he doesn’t think now is the right time to move forward with these types of voting issues.
Over the past 20 years, Leung has helped work on three different linkages for the district – some successful, some unsuccessful. He says more conservative areas, like Douglas County, are generally more hesitant to pass further tax increases. And with things like inflation and a possible recession, voters are already facing higher prices.
“In order to get people to vote for this, you have to figure out if you have a favorable political climate and if you have a favorable financial climate,” Leung said.
Beyond that, Leung says the school board faces image issues after changing its equity policies, firing former superintendent Corey Wise and taking legal action over alleged Open demands. Meeting Act.
“You don’t want such negative news when you’re asking people for $60 million,” Leung said. “Trust, accountability and transparency – all of this is currently in doubt.”
He also doesn’t believe the council did enough in the months leading up to the election to educate voters on what the money would do and where it would go.
In previous bond measures, Leung says outreach began months in advance, with district funding and an army of volunteers to help. So far, he has not seen that commitment from the current board.
A recent poll conducted by the district also determined that a majority of voters do not approve of waiver questions on factory bonds or royalties.
A New Bridge Strategy poll found that while three in four voters said raising district salaries was extremely important to retaining talent, less than 39% said they would vote for a tax waiver. factory, while 43% said they were definitely not. Democrats and Independents were more likely to support raising taxes than Republicans.
“Historically speaking, you can’t climb from such a low percentage and expect to magically gain more percentage to reach 50% plus a vote to get it through just 60 days before the ballot,” Leung said. .
For the bond proposal, only 36% of respondents said they would definitely vote yes, while 40% said they would definitely vote no and 24% said they were unsure.
At a school board presentation in June, however, presenters had more polls showing a way forward to help the district win more support.
Leung’s biggest concern is that if these measures fail, the district will be further behind than it is now.
“If you fail, you won’t get a chance to put it on the ballot for a few more years,” he said.
Nonetheless, voters will have the final say in November.