GOLDEN – Jefferson County school board members directed Superintendent Cindy Stevenson on Thursday to craft language for a $99 million school bond issue and a $39 million increase in operating dollars for possible placement on the November ballot.
Stevenson is to present the language to the board at its June 7 meeting, when a majority of members are expected to approve placing the tax questions before voters.
If so, Jeffco would likely be the third large metro-area school district asking its citizens to increase funding for schools while they’re making their presidential picks.
Cherry Creek school board members already have approved asking voters for a $125 million school bond issue and a $25 million increase in operating dollars. And a Denver Public Schools advisory committee is meeting through June, when it’s expected to present recommendations for tax ballot questions.
Presidential-election years are popular times for school districts to plead their financial cases before their communities, largely because higher voter turnout tends to be more amenable to tax increases.
Denver voters in 2008 approved the state’s largest bond issue, $454 million, while Cherry Creek voters signed off on a $203 million building tax question. Jeffco, however, struck out on its 2008 request for a $350 million bond issue.
Thursday night, some public speakers urged the board of the state’s largest school district to go to voters in November.
“We believe strongly now is the time,” said Kelly Johnson, a member of the group Citizens for Jeffco Schools. “We simply cannot wait.”
Group recommends range for bond and operating increases
Citizens for Jeffco Schools, founded by community leaders such as Hereford Percy, a former Jeffco board member who now chairs the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, is advising the district on the tax questions.
Citing survey results, committee members recommended the board seek a school bond issue of just under $100 million and an increase in operating dollars of between $37 million and $39 million.
School board member Paula Noonan questioned whether the amounts shouldn’t be larger, noting the district is projecting another $43 million in cuts in 2013-14.
But Buddy Douglass, another member of the advisory group, said their research suggests more prudent requests are more likely to be successful.
“There is concern in the community. In the surveys we’ve done, there is support and a majority support,” he said. “But it’s not 80-20. There is a big part of this community that is not going to accept the premise that we need additional funding.”
In response to questions from board member Laura Boggs, group members declined to release specific survey or polling data. They indicated support for the tax questions exceeds 60 percent and that they would be able to raise at least $100,000 to fund a campaign backing the tax increases.
How tax proposals would impact Jeffco homeowners
Tax increases in the ranges suggested by the advisory group would cost about $1 more per month for every $100,000 of home market value. The average Jeffco home is valued at about $250,000.
The amount is smaller because it assumes a continuation of taxes assessed for a 2004 school bond issue that is due to be paid off in December.
In other words, tax bills in the sprawling suburban county are scheduled to decline at the end of 2012 as that old bond debt is retired.
If Jeffco board members decide not to seek tax increases, or if voters say no, Jeffco property tax bills will decrease about $2.66 a month for every $100,000 of home market value – or $32 per year.
If Jeffco board members ask for tax increases, and voters say yes, property tax bills will not decline but will instead increase by $1 a month for every $100,000 of home market value – or $12 per year.
At least three of the board’s five members – Noonan, Robin Johnson and board president Lesley Dahlkemper – indicated support for asking voters for tax help. So Dahlkemper directed Stevenson to return next month with possible ballot language. The board did not formally vote on that direction.
The move is not a surprise. In February, Jeffco district leaders proposed delaying painful budget cuts in 2012-13 by one year to allow community members to decide whether to improve school funding.
Speakers complain about board member’s behavior
Jeffco school board members hosted community budget forums last Saturday to gather input on the budget plan.
Thursday night, two groups of speakers publicly chastised Boggs, who frequently disagrees with her board colleagues, for her remarks and behavior in hosting the forum at Evergreen Middle School.
Tammy Story, accompanied by three other Jeffco parents who live in Boggs’ district, described the forum as “a farce” and said Boggs “latched onto the microphone” for 60 of the forum’s 90 minutes.
“Her singular goal appeared to be to discredit Jeffco Public Schools,” Story said. “Her backhanded attacks on the district seemed to be purposefully devised to plant seeds of mistrust in the minds of the attendees.”
Story asked that board members schedule another forum in the mountain area, to be conducted by a different board member, so that community could be heard. That request was seconded by Mike Long, executive director of the district’s administrators association.
Long, who was accompanied at the microphone by representatives of employee groups and the Jeffco PTA, also asked the board open a “formal review” of Boggs’ conduct.
“We believe her conduct was an embarrassment to the district,” he said, “and we believe that that conduct actually rendered the meeting of very little value in the effort to gather community budget input.”
Dahlkemper, the board president, apologized to the speakers on the board’s behalf and said board members will consider the requests for additional action.
Boggs, who was previously censured by other board members but who maintains a vocal following, did not respond to the criticisms during the meeting.
Later, she said the descriptions of her behavior were not accurate “but public perception is public perception.”
Asked why she chose not to defend herself, Boggs said, “We’ve got much more important issues to deal with than somebody who doesn’t like the facts.”