PERA funding highlighted on ballot questions

Cassie Monroe
Posted 8/16/12

The school district’s budget and ballot issues concerning bond and mill-levy increases will be hot topics at the next Jeffco Board of Education …

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PERA funding highlighted on ballot questions


The school district’s budget and ballot issues concerning bond and mill-levy increases will be hot topics at the next Jeffco Board of Education meeting.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Denver West Building, 1829 Denver West Dr., Building 27.

One of the most debated bond and mill issues has pertained to Jeffco employees’ retirement funding. The issue gained a lot of attention after a column by The Denver Post’s Mike Rosen earlier this summer. Rosen used findings from Jeffco Students First, a nonpartisan foundation that monitors education spending in the district, which stated more than half the money raised from a mill-levy increase would pay for Jeffco Public Schools employee’s retirement fund and buying back furlough days.

According to Jeffco Students First’s calculations, $20 million of the $39 million raised by the mill levy would go toward the Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA), and another $5 million to the furlough days. According to Jeffco Students First, that would leave $14 million to cover $46 million in district budget cuts. These numbers are based on an estimate of how much more the district will have to pay in PERA contributions by 2018 because of the annual 0.9 percent increase.

Those figures led Rosen and several others to publicly oppose the taxes and question supporting the measure. But according to Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, the numbers are not accurate, and money from the mill levy will not go toward the retirement fund.

“That amount for PERA is already in our budget because it is required by law,” Stevenson said. “And we’re going to pay it whether 3A passes or does not pass.”

PERA is the retirement fund for state employees, including members of government and the judicial system. Under PERA, employees are required to pay a percentage of their salary to the fund, and the employer makes a contribution. Jeffco employees have paid 8 percent for the past several years, and the district’s contribution has steadily increased from 10.65 percent in 2006 to 15.65 percent in 2012. PERA rates will increase again next year.

Stevenson said the opposition to the bond and mill-levy increases is calling for employees to pay a higher amount than their 8 percent to PERA, but she said she does not believe that is the right course of action since employees already took a 3 percent salary cut to combat budget cuts.

“If we asked them to cover PERA too, that would be an even larger decrease,” she said. “I think there is also a question here of how to treat your employees. They have already stepped up and done their part.”

Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First, said she estimates that by 2018 Jeffco will be contributing close to $100 million to PERA, which is about 17 percent of the budget.

“That makes me question if we’re putting students first or are we putting adults first,” Atwell said.

The organization says the district needs to reorganize its spending to be more efficient, and does not believe additional state funding or tax increases are necessary for the schools to improve.

Laura Boggs, Jeffco board of education member, said she believes employees should contribute more than 8 percent to their PERA funds. She said community members have expressed their concerns about how much the district pays into PERA, but their voices are not being heard.

“The really disappointing part to me is that we aren’t listening to our community,” Boggs said.


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