School districts ask for more money

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Three local school districts are asking voters to approve ballot issues to make up for state funding shortfalls that have left schools struggling to make ends meet.

Academy District 20 is seeking bond funding that will see no increase in property taxes, and District 49, which covers the eastern side of El Paso County from Powers to Falcon, is proposing a mill levy override that would leave overall tax rates unchanged. Colorado Springs District 11 has put forward both a bond measure and a mill levy override with a combined impact of about $10 per month on the district’s average homeowner.

ACADEMY DISTRICT 20

Ballot Issue 3A proposes increasing the debt for School District 20 to $230 million to build new schools and improve existing schools without raising property tax rates — in ballot language, “with no expected increase in the district’s current total mill levy rate of 60.216 mills (approved by voters in 1999).”

The funds would be used for capital improvements, including:

• two new elementary schools

• a new middle school

• a center for innovative learning

• improvements at all elementary, middle and high schools, including The Classical Academy charter school

• expansions at Discovery Canyon Campus, Liberty High School, Pine Creek High School and School in the Woods (and removal of modular buildings)

• remodeling Air Academy High School, Challenger Middle School and Rampart High School

• updating technology infrastructure at all schools.

Vote Yes for D20 Kids co-chairwoman Laurie Uddenberg said 3A was important because state funding to District 20 has been cut by $150 million.

The bond issue would allow improvements to the science classrooms and common spaces including gyms, theaters and cafeterias.

“Over the last 15 years we’ve had an additional 7,000 students. So now 25,000 students are being serviced by District 20 and they expect another 5,000-student increase … in the next 10 years,” Uddenberg said. “I think we’re doing a great job as a large school district, but we’re at a point where they’re going to need the funding help [to manage] all the growth.”

Glenn Strebe, Academy District 20 Board of Education president, said the bond would benefit the business community in many ways.

“First and foremost, it creates outstanding educational facilities that help create a top-notch school district,” he said. “We know strong schools are attractive to individuals looking to move to Colorado Springs. In turn, more professional jobs like teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals are created — which benefits Colorado Springs.”

But not everyone in D-20 agrees. Written comments against the proposal said the growth data is “speculative,” according to information provided to the county under state law.  Other comments said the “needs” list is mostly “wants.”

“Stakeholders have recommended that existing basic needs are met across D-20 before expenditures on ‘wants’ takes place,” one comment said. “The school board has allowed D-20 to spend wastefully on upgrades, unfairly allocated amenities, frivolous projects and unnecessary services such as marketing campaigns, pricey advertising, extravagant signage and avoidable legal services, disregarding good stewardship of taxpayer money.”

DISTRICT 49

Under Ballot Issue 3B, District 49 proposes collecting up to $3.3 million in property tax revenue in 2017 as well as additional amounts generated in following years, via a mill levy override that keeps overall tax rates unchanged from today’s rates.

“The four words to note are ‘without any tax increase’ —  the ballot language makes it very clear that there’s not a tax increase,” said Citizens for District 49 Kids member and District 49 parent Dave Cruson. “It’s a continuation of what we already pay, instead of letting it expire and then realizing down the road, ‘Goodness sakes, now we need to increase taxes.’”

The funds would be used for capital improvements and operational priorities including:

• two new elementary schools to open in rapid-growth areas in 2018

• refurbishing and refreshing facilities at every District 49 school, including charter schools, every decade

• major remodeling or additions at the district’s three largest high schools

• a $1 million annual investment to attract and retain highly effective teachers

The average District 49 building is 15 years old. If the ballot initiative passes, the initial disbursement of funds will give more money to older, larger buildings than newer, smaller buildings “to get everyone on equal footing,” Falcon School District 39 Communications Director Matt Meister said.

Addressing the money allocated to attracting and retaining teachers, Meister said, “While we have many high quality teachers that have worked in District 49 for a long time, ‘higher salary’ is the most common reason we receive for an educator leaving the district, but staying locally.”

There was no formal opposition against the proposal.

COLORADO SPRINGS DISTRICT 11

Friends of D-11 co-chairwoman Jan Martin said due to a decrease in state funding of $1,000 per student, District 11 faces an annual shortfall of $28 million, which  hampers its ability to repair buildings and add security at schools.

“Most of the schools in District 11 are over 50 years old and are really in need of serious repair,” she said.

Under Ballot Issue 3C, a mill levy override would see taxes increased by up to $15 million in 2017, increasing annually to $32.6 million in 2024. (The details of the ballot show taxes being increased up to $15 million in 2017, $16.25 million in 2018, $17.5 million in 2019, $18.75 million in 2020, $20 million in 2021, $21.25 million in 2022, $22.5 million in 2023 and $32.6 million in 2024, and thereafter $32.6 million adjusted for annual changes in the Denver-Boulder consumer price index).

The funds would be used for:

• adding security officers and school resource officers

• adding nurses, counselors and social workers

• reducing class sizes

• attracting, retaining and recruiting quality teachers and staff

• maintaining efficient, secure buildings and equipment

• upgrading information technology systems

• providing equitable funding for charter schools

Ballot Issue 3D proposes increasing the Colorado Springs School District 11 debt to $235 million, and increasing district taxes up to $15.5 million annually to improve schools, upgrade technology and build new facilities.

The funds would be used for:

• building repairs (including roofs, boilers, heat and ventilation, plumbing and electrical)

• acquiring and upgrading technology

• enlarging, remodeling, improving and making additions to existing schools

• building, improving, repairing and remodeling property and athletic facilities

• energy conservation equipment and cost conservation projects

“The need is very great,” she said. “That’s why we’re seeing ballot measures from all school districts around the region, because the state funding has been cut so dramatically.”

The bond measure would be used to catch up on the maintenance needed on existing buildings and the mill levy override would be used for ongoing operations, Martin said.

“The No. 1 priority for the district is school resource officers and security officers for all schools,” she said. “Today not all schools [in the district] even have security officers … and many schools share nurses, so there isn’t someone always available at a school.”

Martin said the technology upgrades were critical.

“District 11 was the second school district created in the state of Colorado,” she said. “Our city really grew up around School District 11, and I describe it as the heart of our community. When our heart is healthy the whole community is healthy.

“District 11 has a very detailed list of projects that will be completed with the funds. It doesn’t just go into a general fund pool, but the specific projects are listed and each school has a list of projects for that particular school.”

There is no formal opposition to the proposal.