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Campaigns gear up for school tax votes

Fundraisers already are hard at work corralling contributors for the campaigns supporting proposed tax increases in key Colorado school districts.

As usual, the largest contributions have come from banks, financial firms and construction companies who do business with school districts underwriting bonds and building schools.

Most of the activity ahead of a late-July reporting deadline was in the Cherry Creek and Jefferson County districts. Money also has been raised by a committee that supports an Aurora tax increase, even though the school board hasn’t yet placed the plan on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The St. Vrain Valley and Greeley/Evans districts have put tax increases on the ballot, but those campaign committees registered on or after the July deadline so they haven’t had to file reports with the secretary of state’s office. The next reporting deadline isn’t until Oct. 16.

The Denver and Douglas County boards haven’t decided on ballot proposals. A Denver campaign committee registered with the secretary of state last month but hasn’t had to file a report.

A review of the secretary of state’s database found no opposition committees yet registered in any district. Here’s a look at campaign financial activity in major districts so far:

Jefferson County

Citizens for Jeffco Schools, a registered committee since 2008, reported cash on hand of $25,949.

Tax request types

  • Bond issue – Typically used for school construction and renovation, it includes additional revenue to pay off the bonds issued to finance the projects.
  • Mill levy override – A specific tax increase used for operating expenses.

The committee started the year with $3,968 and has raised $49,665.

Large contributors include Robert W. Baird & Co. of Milwaukee, Wisc., the district’s investment banker ($20,000) and FirstBank Holding Co. of Lakewood ($15,000).

The campaign also has received more than 180 smaller individual contributions, including $400 from Superintendent Cindy Stevenson and $250 from board president Leslie Dahlkemper.

The committee has spent $27,684 this year, most of it with Public Opinion Strategies of Golden and with the Denver campaign firm MIDG Group.

In addition, the committee also spent $15,000 with Public Opinion Strategies in July 2011 to survey voter attitudes about a potential tax election.

Cherry Creek

Citizens for Cherry Creek Schools, in existence since 2005, reported $66,920 on hand. It started the year with a balance of $3,556, raised $68,376 and spent $5,012 with campaign firm MIDG Group.

Major contributors include Haselden Construction of Centennial ($5,000), M.A. Mayer Construction of Centennial ($5,000) and Shaffer Baucom Engineering of Lakewood ($2,500).

The committee also received $2,500 from FASB Fitness Festival of Greenwood Village, a non-profit that runs the First American State Bank Fitness Festival. According to the group’s website, Cherry Creek Superintendent Mary Chesley is honorary chair.

The group has received more than 70 small contributions from individuals and businesses. Among the donors were Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial ($50), and former Superintendent Monte Moses ($200).

Aurora

Aurora Citizens for Excellent Schools, which registered on June 26, reported contributions of $11,500 and no spending through the July 26 reporting deadline.

All of the income came from two construction companies – Adolphson & Peterson of Aurora ($10,000) and JHL Constructors of Centennial ($1,500).

Construction companies, architects and engineers are traditional contributors to district campaign committees, although Aurora this year is considering a tax override for operating expenses, not a bond issue.

Looking ahead, looking back

In addition to Greeley, 14 other districts around the state are seeking or are expected to seek voter approval of bond issues in order to match state grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program.

In the metro area, Sheridan is asking for voters for a $6.5 million bond issue. A campaign committee, Best for Sheridan Students Committee, registered in late July and hasn’t yet had to report contributions.

In smaller districts, campaign committees often aren’t formed as supporters rely on word of mouth to advocate for bond issues and operating increases. In small districts with committees, contributions often total only a few hundred dollars.

Last November’s election was sobering for Colorado school districts. Of the 43 bond issues and operating increases proposed by 36 districts, only 11 were approved. Six of those that passed were for BEST matches, but six other BEST bond proposals were rejected. (Get details in this story.)

Douglas County was the only large metro-area district to go to the ballot last year, and voters resoundingly defeated a bond issue and a mill levy override.

Proposals and campaigns

State law bars school districts from conducting campaigns or spending tax money to advocate, so campaigns typically are handled by separate citizen political committees.

→ ON THE BALLOT

  • Cherry Creek – The district is seeking a $125 million bond issue and a $25 million operating tax increase, also known as a mill levy override. The district says that would cost owners of “average” homes an additional $8 a month in property taxes. Campaign organization: Citizens for Cherry Creek Schools
  • Greeley – The district has proposed an $8.2 million bond issue to match a state grant for replacing a middle school. The district is an alternate for the state grant, so other districts will have to lose bond elections in order for Greeley to move up on the list. Campaign organization: Committee to Support Education Greeley/Evans
  • Jefferson County – Voters are being asked to approve a $99 million bond issue and a $39 million operating increase. The campaign estimates property taxes will rise $1.43 a month per $100,000 of home value. Campaign organization: Citizens for Jeffco Schools
  • St. Vrain – The school board has approved asking voters for a $14.8 million operating increase. The increase would amount to an estimated $4.16 a month per $100,000 of a home’s market value. Campaign organization: Yes on 3A

→ IN THE WINGS?

  • Aurora – The district is studying a $15 million operating increase, which would mean a $5 per month tax increase on $100,000 home. The school board will discuss the issue again on Aug. 21. Campaign organization: Aurora Citizens for Excellent Schools
  • Denver – Under consideration are a $457 million bond issue and a $49 million operating increase. Campaign organization: Together for Denver Schools
  • Douglas County – The school board voted on July 26 to reserve a spot on the Nov. 6 ballot but hasn’t revealed what it might propose. Past campaign organization: Douglas County Citizens for Education Reform. The committee is listed as “active” by the secretary of state but has had no fundraising activity since last year.

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