A little over a month ago, we launched a survey to gauge the opinion of the community on the direction of Jeffco Public Schools and to get feedback on possible fall election questions. To date, …
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A little over a month ago, we launched a survey to gauge the opinion of the community on the direction of Jeffco Public Schools and to get feedback on possible fall election questions. To date, we’ve had over 2,000 people respond to the survey and, based on the results, respondents show strong support for the direction Jeffco Public Schools is headed and support for possible election questions in the fall.
Before we launch into an analysis of the data, an important caveat is in order. While this survey was open to the entire community, most of the respondents were people with some connection to Jeffco Public Schools – parents, teachers, and/or staff. While the support of these groups is critically important, we should exercise some caution before generalizing these results to the larger Jeffco community.
Support for Jeffco Public Schools Strong
So what did respondents say? We first asked about the direction Jeffco Public Schools was headed. 59.6 percent of respondents said Jeffco is headed in the “Right Direction,” compared to just 9.6 percent who said Jeffco was on the “Wrong Track.” Just over 30 percent of respondents were in the middle, answering “Unsure.” The key takeaway here is respondents who were supportive of the direction Jeffco Public Schools is headed outnumbered detractors by about a 6:1 margin.
Respondents also strongly believed Jeffco Public Schools needed additional funding. When asked “Do you believe Jeffco Public Schools needs additional funding?” respondents overwhelmingly agreed with almost 90 percent agreeing.
Safety & Security Tops Priorities for Construction Needs
We next asked questions about construction and facilities’ needs. These needs are typically funded through an election question called a “bond,” where the district asks the voters for permission to sell bonds on the bond market and then use a property tax to repay those bonds (with interest) over a period of (usually) 20 years.
Safety and security leads the pack in this group, with 80.1 percent. Given the rash of school violence we’ve seen across the country this past year, this result perhaps not surprising – people seem to want a greater investment in schools safety and security.
Close behind this was an interest in addressing basic building needs such as roofing, HVAC, paint, and flooring. Coming in a close third was improved building technology access and additional career/technical education options, especially those focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Still polling strong, but not as robust as other results, was support for improved building efficiency and modernized classroom-learning spaces.
Recruit & Retain Quality Teachers & Staff a Major Priority
Next came a series of questions for support of ongoing operational needs, which are used for the ongoing costs associated with funding schools. Funds for these needs are typically increased through a ballot question called a “mill levy override,” which adds to school funding provided from the state through a property tax increase and all funds from a mill levy override stay local. There is another possibility for funding these needs that may appear on the ballot being put forth by a group called “Great Schools, Thriving Communities,” or Initiative 93. More on that in a minute.
So, what were respondents’ priorities when it comes to ongoing needs? Here, a clear priority emerged around “attracting and retaining talented teachers and staff” with 95 percent identifying this as “extremely” or “very” important. Coming in second, was support for adding more counseling and mental health supports. The next set of priorities clustered together with lower class size, replacing outdated textbooks and learning materials, and adding career/technical education programs. Close behind, support for arts, music, and theater programs, student technology, early childhood education, physical and outdoor education. A far distant priority was eliminating some student fees.
Support for Jeffco Ballot Questions Strong
Next, we asked respondents directly if they would support a ballot question for construction projects (a bond) and/or a ballot question for ongoing funding needs (a mill levy override). Support for both was positive, with 68% expressing “a great deal or “a lot” of support for a bond and 72 percent supporting a mill levy override.
Success for school elections requires a simple majority approval (50 percent plus one vote) to pass. Based on these results among those with connections to Jeffco Public Schools, there seems to be strong support should these questions appear on the ballot.
Strong Support for Great Schools, Thriving Communities
It is also possible that a state-level Constitutional amendment would appear on the ballot that would substantially increase school funding in Colorado (and in Jeffco) through an income tax on filers making over $150,000. The measure would actually make some reductions in residential and commercial property taxes.
The big takeaway here is that familiarity with the Great Schools, Thriving Communities proposal is decidedly mixed. However, once people understand it, there is fairly strong support. This issue would amend the Colorado Constitution, and requires a higher bar to even get on the ballot for the fall. We will continue to monitor the progress of this measure to see if it makes the ballot so we can inform our community of the potential pros and cons accordingly.
Next Steps for Jeffco Public Schools
Looking ahead, we’ll be conducting community meetings all across Jeffco through the summer and into the fall, gathering more information. The Board of Education has the final say in how and if Jeffco Public Schools decides to put ballot questions on for the November 2018 election, and they must do so in late August.
I encourage you to discuss this data and your thoughts on possible election questions with your neighbors and community members. Thanks to everyone for providing your input and have a great summer!
Jason Glass is the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools.
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