JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Jefferson County’s school board will host a public meeting Thursday night to discuss a proposal for a new bond and mill levy override.
The school board wants to use the money for facility maintenance, teacher pay and education materials for students.
“The easy way to think about this is that a bond supports a school building itself and a mill levy override supports what happens inside of a school building,” said Leslie Colwell, the vice president for education initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
The district is considering a $567 million bond proposal, which it said is only about half of the money its facilities need.
“A bond request asks voters if a district can take on more debt to fund capitol needs,” Colwell said.
The bond is about $30 million more than the district asked voters to approve in 2016. That proposal failed.
Now, Jefferson County is trying once again to convince voters that it needs the money. The district said the average age of its buildings is 50 years and there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
The district plans to use the money for school safety, security upgrades, building renovations and more. Jefferson County said it will not use any of the money on administration or staff.
Meanwhile, it’s also considering a mill levy override for $33 million. That would raise property taxes by $2.10 a month for every $100,000 a person’s home is worth. For a $300,000 home, that would come out to $6.31 a month or about $75.72 a year in additional property taxes.
“Often, the mill levy override (is) used for increasing teacher pay, investing in technology, funding early childhood education, buying new curriculum,” Colwell said. “However, because we have seen such a dramatic reduction in state funding really since the recession, what we’ve seen in the recent past is several school districts saying to voters, ‘We actually need a mill levy override funding just to keep our heads above water.’”
The district says the mill levy override money will help boost the county’s competitiveness with surrounding districts. It will also allow the district to provide more mental health support and counseling for students, expand career and technical education courses, add more STEM options, buy new classroom supplies and technology and expand the early childhood education to full-day courses.
However, mill levy overrides do have their downfalls, depending on the district.
“One of the problems with mill levy overrides is it creates inequities because property values vary so widely,” Colwell said. “One district raises one mill and it brings in less than $20 per student. Another (district) can raise one mill and bring in more than $3,000 per student so it’s an incredible disparity in funding available.”
Some school districts also have better luck than others in asking for a mill levy override. In Denver, for instance, voters approved a $56.6 million in 2016 while Brighton schools has unsuccessfully asked voters six times since 2003.
Meanwhile, Douglas County’s school board also agreed this week to ask voters for a bond and mill levy override on the Nov. 6 ballot.
That district is asking for $250 million in bonds and a $40 million mill levy override.
That would raise taxes for people with a $470,000 by $208 a year if voters approve it.
The state is also considering options to bring in more funding for schools. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced earlier this month that it has received and verified enough signatures to allow Amendment 73 on the ballot.
It would add $1.6 billion to education funding by raising the state income taxes for people who earn more than $150,000 a year.
“We’re seeing an increase in student needs across the state, (and) also seeing an increase in student population, and our state funding has not kept pace with that,” Colwell said. “Amendment 73 is an attempt at state-wide funding solution for Colorado, to move away from mill levy overrides and bonds.”
Jefferson County will decide whether to ask voters for the bond and mill levy override Thursday.
Then, voters will have the final say on all of these school funding issues in November.