‘Yes’ on school override

Stated bluntly, School District 51 is facing a financial train wreck. It has cut millions of dollars over the past two years and has eliminated scores of teaching and administrative jobs. If, as expected, the state cuts another $8 million from the district’s budget next year — and no new money is found — the impact on the local school system will be devastating.

It is not a scare tactic to say that more drastic measures will be needed. They may very well include reductions in athletic budgets and busing, as well as a switch to a four-day week. More administrators, teachers and classroom offerings will also likely be cut.

That’s why we believe voters in District 51 should support Referred Measure 3B, the six-year override of TABOR Amendment revenue and spending limits that would raise an estimated $12.5 million a year for the district.

It’s important to understand this is not some end-run to get around TABOR. The 1992 amendment specifically authorizes school districts and other entities to ask voters to allow them to go beyond the normal TABOR limits. That’s precisely what District 51 is doing in the Nov. 1 election.

For those who say the district should simply cut more administrators, it’s important to realize the district has eliminated some 70 administrative positions over the past few years. No matter how you define “administration,” District 51 is near the bottom of similarly sized districts in the state when it comes to administrative spending per student.

Moreover, state mandates on things like tracking student performance mean that cutting additional administrative positions would require teachers to spend more time on paperwork and less time teaching kids.

The critical element of the district’s plan to spend that $12.5 million is to refill the 80 teaching positions that were cut over the past couple years. It would be helpful if the district could provide a clearer picture of where the 80 teachers will be assigned if 3B is passed. But there’s little question the teachers are needed to reduce class size, restore class offerings and assist struggling students. Programs that have helped boost academic performance will be curtailed or eliminated if there aren’t enough teachers.

Reinstituting five additional school days, days that have been cut in recent years, is also critical. Schools in the United States already operate with 20 to 40 fewer school days a year than many countries in Europe and Asia.

The third leg of the district’s plan for using the $12.5 million if 3B passes is to improve technology in the schools, a project that was begun several years ago but has stalled with the economy. Having adequate computers for schools throughout the district is important for education in the 21st century. However, this should be the lowest priority for using the money. First, in addition to hiring more teachers, make sure they have sufficient money for classroom needs without digging into their own pockets.

Public education in this country has always been a community endeavor. Those with no children in the schools have understood that in contributing tax money, they are paying forward a debt that was paid for them when they or their kids attended school.

Furthermore, the cost of 3B is a relatively small price to pay to prevent further deterioration of our schools. The seven mill increase in property taxes will mean roughly $110 a year for a home valued at $200,000. That’s just over $2 a week — less than the cost of large latte or a cold beer.

The costs for parents and the community are likely to be far greater if the ballot measure doesn’t pass.

We urge everyone to vote “yes” on Referred Measure 3B.


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