Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles on school ballot measures. Next week, the Business Journal will review ballot measures for Harrison School District 2 and Manitou Springs School District 14, as well as the statewide Amendment 73 proposal.
Five El Paso County school districts are presenting a total of six measures on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The measures include both mill levy override and bond issue questions. The districts are seeking funds for projects ranging from safety and security improvements to new school construction.
In addition, voters will weigh in on Amendment 73, which would change the Colorado Constitution and state law related to funding for public education.
Some provisions of the ballot measures will directly impact businesses by changing the taxes they pay in support of education.
Other provisions will upgrade school technology, help expand science, technology, engineering and math education and, in general, improve schools’ abilities to educate tomorrow’s workforce.
Four of the six local measures are summarized below.
Lewis-Palmer School District 38
Lewis-Palmer, which serves about 6,700 students in Monument, Woodmoor and northern Black Forest, has two measures on the November ballot.
Ballot Issue 4A asks voters to approve a mill levy override that would raise up to $1 million annually to hire and train safety and security staff at all of the district’s 10 schools, including Monument Academy Charter School. The override would sunset in seven years.
Ballot Issue 4B asks voters to approve a bond issue of $36.5 million, with a maximum repayment cost of $66.3 million, plus a tax increase of $5.2 million annually, for capital improvements including safety and security enhancements, and constructing and equipping a new elementary school.
“We are in the business of preparing students for their first jobs,” Public Information Officer Julie Stephen said. “When we have adequate, safe spaces, we can do all of that with less distraction and better.”
The district currently has five elementary, two middle and two high schools, plus Monument Academy and the Grace Best Education Center, which houses the district’s Home School Enrichment Academy, Science Center and Transitions program for students with special educational needs.
The district wants to build a new 650-student elementary school west of Bear Creek Elementary School and convert Bear Creek back to a middle school to serve 925 students.
Stephen said the district’s voters haven’t passed a bond issue since 2007, when Palmer Ridge High School was built.
The district is expected to enroll an additional 945 students in the next five years, and many of the district’s schools are at or nearing capacity, information on the district’s website states.
According to the district, the cost for both the mill levy override and the bond issue would be about $14 a month on a home valued at $400,000. Business owners would see their taxes increase by about $56 a month for both measures.
“We will have a committee which supervises how the money is spent,” Stephen said.
El Paso County School District 49
District 49, which covers 133 square miles in northeast Colorado Springs and the Falcon area of El Paso County, is one of the fastest growing in the Pikes Peak region.
Formerly known as Falcon School District 49, it currently serves more than 21,000 students.
The district is poised for significant growth as the Banning Lewis Ranch area is built out.
The school district currently has 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools and eight charter schools, plus Patriot High School, an alternative school; Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, a blended learning school; and Pikes Peak Early College, a college
The district’s mill levy override measure, Ballot Issue 4C, asks voters to reduce the current levy of 19.081 mills to 18.5 mills in order to restructure the district’s debt.
The district’s voters approved mill levy overrides in 2014 and 2016.
The 2014 override capped the dollar amount that could be raised by the increased levy at $7.5 million, Director of Communications David Nancarrow said.
“The [current] question asks if we can restructure that. It would reduce the rate but remove the cap,” Nancarrow said.
“It would immediately reduce the tax burden on property owners in D49 but would also set up the district to have funding respond as the population grows.”
The measure would combine and lower the mill levy rates approved in 2014 and 2016 and fix the new rate at 18.5 mills.
“[Measure] 4C would allow District 49 to grow with the community, experiencing the full ebb and flow of the economic experience of our constituents — growing when their property value grows, and moderating (or even contracting) when their property values experience those pressures as well,” said Chief Business Officer Brett Ridgway, one of three chief officers who lead the district, rather than a single superintendent.
Ridgway said the ballot measure, if passed, would raise about $16.5 million next year and $17.2 million in 2020, basically increasing by the same percentage as the assessed value of property in the district, assuming that the assessed value grows 5 percent in 2020.
Nancarrow said funds raised through the ballot issue would go toward continuing the priorities listed in the 2016 question: competitive salaries and benefits for teachers, capital improvements at all schools, accessibility and safety improvements at the high schools and construction of two elementary schools in the central and northern portions of the district.
Ellicott School District 22
District 22 serves about 1,100 students, about 300 of whom attend the high school. Enrollment there is the largest it’s ever been, Superintendent Chris Smith said. That is why the district is seeking funds to expand the high school, as well as the elementary school.
Ballot Issue 4D asks voters to approve a bond issue of $4.37 million, with a repayment cost of up to $7.9 million, to address safety and security, improve accessibility and pay for upgrades and renovations including a cafeteria expansion at the elementary school and additional classrooms at the high school.
If funds are available, the bond proceeds also would allow the district to build an auxiliary practice gym for student and community use and resurface the track.
The district’s facilities include an elementary school, a high school and a third building that houses the preschool, middle school and administrative offices.
The three buildings are within 500 feet of one another and sit along the Ellicott Highway.
A tornado in 2000 sheared off half of the high school. The damaged portion was rebuilt, but the storm left the building with some deficiencies in Americans with Disability Act compliance, Smith said.
Some of the bond proceeds, which would provide matching funds for a state Building Excellent Schools Today grant the district is seeking, would go toward ADA accessibility improvements.
The bond funds also would allow the district to build an addition to the overcrowded cafeteria at the elementary school that would incorporate a tornado shelter.
Elementary school students have to cross the highway to get to the current shelter behind the middle school, a process that takes about 10 minutes. Furthermore, high school students now are sheltered in the school’s locker rooms.
“We would like to figure out a way to put tornado shelters into place in all three buildings,” Smith said.
In addition, the bond issue would provide funds to add six classrooms at the high school for STEM classes.
“Adding those classes will get us up to speed technology-wise,” Smith said.
Funds also would be used to create secure main entrances at the elementary and high schools.
Voters approved a $15.8 million bond issue in 2011 to rebuild the middle school, a project that also used BEST funds. The new building was completed in 2014.
“It’s hard to express what the new facility has done,” Smith said. “It has a whole new look and raises the pride of the students. It has truly impacted our achievements and students’ sense of belonging.”
If the new bond issue passes, “we can do that with our other two buildings,” he said.
“We think this is a good way for us to take advantage of the economy trying to get more bang for the buck without stressing taxpayers.”
Passing the ballot measure would increase the current property tax mill levy from 10 mills to about 15 mills, Smith said.
That would add $25.20 annually, or $2.10 a month, per $100,000 of a home’s value.
The annual tax impact on agricultural land per quarter section would be $6.54 for dry land, $36.63 for irrigated land and $5.37 for grazing land.