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Voices: Thank you, Jeffco voters

Jeffco Public Schools board President Lesley Dahlkemper offers a heartfelt thanks to voters who opened their wallets to support Outdoor Lab, teacher-librarians, instrumental music and more.

Voters in Jefferson County sent a strong message on Tuesday when 58 percent approved issue 3A and 54 percent backed 3B.

These are huge wins – for our kids and our community. Great schools benefit all of us. They improve our quality of life, attract businesses and protect our property values. Most importantly, they educate future citizens who one day will cast their own votes.

3A will generate $39 million each year to maintain classroom size, restore two days of school and ensure students have access to instrumental music, teacher-librarians, electives and Outdoor Lab. 3B will provide $99 million in funds for repairs to aging schools.

For the average Jeffco homeowner, these measures cost $36 a year – a great value considering the return on investment. Our students outperformed the state in all grade levels and content areas on 2012 state tests. Eighty percent of Jeffco third-graders read at or above grade level. Our high school graduation rates tie for second in the nation among the 50 largest school districts, according to Education Week. More Jeffco students are pursuing postsecondary education. The class of 2012 earned $54 million in college scholarships.

Jeffco Schools’ commitment to student achievement has attracted a large federal grant that allows us to test new ways to support and pay teachers who get results for students. This work is now in its second year of implementation in 20 pilot schools across the district.

We leverage every taxpayer dollar toward student success. But our schools have struggled over the last three years to manage more than $78 million in state funding cuts without hurting kids. We have reduced costs, closed underenrolled schools, trimmed staff, streamlined administration and cut compensation.

Jeffco Public Schools, the largest school district in Colorado, received $761 less per student this school year than it did in 2009. We’re not alone. School districts across Colorado have far fewer dollars to educate students, underscoring the importance of identifying a long-term, statewide funding solution for K-12 education and other essential public services.

In Jeffco, the win for 3A and 3B demonstrates what a community can accomplish when it truly puts children first. Thousands of volunteers came forward to help:

  • The teacher-librarian who took out a $7,000 loan to wrap his RV in 3A and 3B banners;
  • The retired Realtor who waved signs as morning commuters whizzed by;
  • The music teacher who organized a flash mob;
  • Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, school board members and others who spoke to countless service clubs, PTA groups and anyone else willing to listen;
  • Chambers of commerce, mayors and other Jeffco leaders who publicly endorsed 3A and 3B.

Despite organized and funded opposition, Jeffco voters refused to buy in to misinformation spread by critics. Opponents claimed 3A funds would go to educators’ retirement accounts. Not true. PERA increases are mandated by the state, and Jeffco Public Schools already has budgeted for those increases – regardless of the passage of 3A.

Opponents also said the district would receive a $60 million windfall in state funding next year. That’s not true, either. The governor’s latest budget proposal shows Jeffco Schools would likely receive $9.8 million more next year. However, we have no idea what the final number is until the Legislature approves the budget next May. In fact, just prior to the release of the governor’s budget, Colorado’s education commissioner told Jeffco Schools to budget for flat funding.

Today, we get back to work analyzing student achievement data, identifying classroom strategies that get results and making sure our graduates are ready for college, the workforce and life.

But we will savor the support of a community that came together on Tuesday to ensure every child in Jeffco receives a great education, and we will be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars Jeffco voters have entrusted to us.

On behalf of the Jeffco school board members who voted to place these measures on the ballot, thank you, Jeffco voters, for believing in our kids and the teachers, principals and support staff who touch their lives every day. Our deepest gratitude goes to Citizens for Jeffco Schools, co-chaired by Kelly Johnson and Jonna Levine, and the volunteers who worked diligently to ensure these measures were successful.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.