Bloodbath for district tax plans

Updated Nov. 2. – Voters rejected more than three-quarters of the tax increases proposed by Colorado school districts, leaving boards and administrators to shelve construction plans and eat budget cuts they had hoped to cover.

LogoOf the 43 bond issues and mill levy overrides proposed by 36 districts, only 11 were approved by voters. (Overrides are proposals to increase property tax rates to raise money for operating expenses.)

Six of the measures approved were to raise local matching funds for state dollars from the Building Excellent Schools Today program. Six other BEST matching proposals were defeated by voters.

Only three middle-sized districts saw proposals approved – Cheyenne Mountain, Englewood and Roaring Fork.

The largest measures approved were Englewood’s $50 million bond issue and Roaring Fork’s $4.2 million override.

The list of losers among larger districts was longer: Brighton, Douglas County (two measures), Eagle County, Falcon (two measures), Mesa 51, Pueblo County (two measures), Sheridan and Thompson.

Englewood’s bond and an $1.5 million override were on the edge until Wednesday evening, when the Arapahoe County clerk’s website, with all votes finally counted, reported that the bond passed 52 percent to 48 percent and the override squeaked by 51.15 percent yes to 49.85 percent no. Total votes cast were about 4,700.

Even though Englewood was the fifth and last alternate on the BEST priority list, it looks like it will win its match. Two finalists eligible for BEST grants lost their local match bids, leaving nearly $24 million of state money on the table. And the top four alternates also failed to pass their matches. The State Capital Construction Assistance Board meets Thursday to reallocate the 2011-12 grants.

Here are the winners:

  • Big Sandy/Simla – $2.9 million bond for BEST match
  • Byers – $330,000 override
  • Cheyenne Mountain – $1.7 million override
  • Ellicott – $2.4 million BEST match
  • Englewood – $50 million bond ($43 million for construction and $8 million for a BEST match), $1.5 million override
  • Idalia – $3.9 million BEST match
  • Prairie/New Raymer – $3.4 million BEST match
  • Roaring Fork – $4.2 million override
  • Sanford – $2.1 million BEST match
  • Sierra Grande (Costilla County) – $335,000 override

“I don’t have any great insights … except this is not the time because of the economy,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. “I know some of those folks [district leaders] thought they could pull it off, but a number of them were very worried.

“It’s a sign of the times.”

Dougco’s $200 million bond issue was the largest proposed in the state this year. Dougco, Englewood, Falcon and Pueblo County were the only districts that proposed both bond issues and overrides for operating expenses.

The following chart shows results for major proposals. Measures that passed are in darker type. Full results available here, compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project. Article continues after chart.

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Bond and override background

More than half a billion dollars in property tax revenue was sought in the election, primarily to build or renovate buildings and to bolster operating budgets that have been squeezed by losses in state aid.

The bulk of the revenue, about $480 million, was for bond issues.

About a dozen districts, many of them small, sought a total of more than $50 million in bond funds to match potential grants from the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today program. Five of those districts, including Englewood and Sheridan in the metro area, are on the BEST waiting list. Even if those voters approve the bonds, the districts won’t receive state money unless some districts higher up the priority list lose their elections.

The more than $560 million proposed by local districts this year is less than the total that was on ballots in 2010, when 31 districts sought $738 million in bond issues and operating revenue increases.

Despite concerns that economic woes would dampen voter interest in raising taxes, districts did pretty well last fall. Voters approved $595.8 million in bonds and operating increases and rejected only $142.5 million worth.

Major proposals at a glance

School under construction
Here are snapshots of tax proposals in larger districts, listed in order of enrollment size.

Douglas County – $200 million bond issue for facilities, technology and other spending and $20 million of increased spending authority for operations, including a pay-for-performance program.

Mesa 51 – $12.5 million of increased taxing authority for eight years to restore teaching positions, add technology and stabilize revenues.

Thompson – $12.8 million, 12-year override to fund class size, new programs and technology.

Brighton – $4.8 million override to maintain class sizes, buy instructional materials and reduce fees. (A 2010 override was defeated.)

Falcon –$85 million bond issue for construction and a $5 million override. (Voters rejected a bond issue last year.)

Pueblo County –$35 million bond issue for facilities and a $3.4 million override to reduce class sizes, restore teaching jobs and expand vocational programs.

Eagle County – $6 million override to maintain class sizes, reduce cutbacks in extracurricular activities and replace buses and computers.

Smaller districts seeking large bond issues include Englewood ($50 million) and Archuleta County/Pagosa Springs ($49 million).

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”