Jeffco schools need more funding.
Even some in the community who oppose Jefferson County’s 3A and 3B ballot issues this November readily acknowledge this as an undeniable reality.
Colorado’s education funding has been falling since the …
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Colorado’s education funding has been falling since the 1980s. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that Colorado’s children receive $2,070 less annually for education than the national average.
Where the state is failing, districts are turning to local taxpayers to bridge the ever-widening funding gap. This November, Jeffco is asking for a $535 million bond (3B), which would provide money for improvements and repairs to schools, and a $33 million mill levy override (3A) to help with operational costs, including teacher and district staff pay.
The question for Jeffco voters is not whether their schools need more funding, but whether these specific tax measures will accomplish what taxpayers hope they will.
The editorial board at Colorado Community Media believes that — yes — this will be money well spent.
Jeffco has a track record of accomplishing what it says it will. County voters last turned down a school bond in 2008, but the district came back to voters with a $324 million bond issue to make “safe and dry” repairs to schools, which passed in 2012. This summer, the district successfully completed all the facility repairs promised by that bond, and used an accompanying $38.5 million mill levy to help increase salaries for district teachers who had voluntarily taken pay cuts and freezes during the recession.
The district has $800 million in facility costs to fix up or replace the district’s aging schools. This bond money will take a chunk out of that problem, with improvements and repairs to 110 schools and “major renovations and additions” to 45 other schools. As the amount of lead piping found in Jeffco schools over the summer strongly indicates, these are buildings in need of renovation.
The $33 million mill levy would be an ongoing tax, helping to make Jeffco salaries more competitive, increase school security and provide mental health counselor assistance to all elementaries. It also will help offset state funding cuts, which are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Critics have pointed out that Jeffco has empty seats at several facilities, and that the district has seen flat overall enrollment over the last few years — raising the question of why some of the bond money is earmarked for building new classrooms. The puzzle of where and how to make room for new students is a tough one, but with Colorado’s overall population still trending upwards, we think the district is right to be providing newer and more ample classroom capacity.
Accomplishing all of that will not be cheap. The total payback amount for the bond will approach $1 billion. Together, both tax measures would increase residential taxes by $49.44 a year for every $100,000 in home value. Non-residential properties would pay an additional $180.36 a year for every $100,000 of property value. These taxes will be paid by Jeffco property owners for the next 25 years.
The good news is the district has structured the debt repayment to keep the overall school bond tax burden well within historic levels for property owners. School-based bond repayments will actually remain lower than they were 2009-2012. And the school bond tax burden will drop considerably lower in 2027, as older bonds are paid off.
That said, both critics and current board members say they fully expect the district to have to ask taxpayers for additional bonds in years to come, long before 3B is paid off.
What Colorado Community Media and taxpayers across the state would really like to see is a solution from state legislators, instead of leaving individual districts to beg for assistance, creating wide disparities in education levels.
But because our children cannot wait for a solution from the state, we must do what we can, here and now, and continue to invest in the future.
Vote yes on 3A and 3B.
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