Support D51’s request
The graduating class of 2017 was in kindergarten in 2004 — the last time voters approved a bond measure and mill levy override in cash-strapped District 51.
An entire generation of students later, many of the district’s older buildings have deteriorated to the point of obsolescence amid ongoing budgetary challenges and the district lacks the resources to fully optimize its conversion to performance-based learning.
When John Williams, president of the school board, declared “it’s just time” to ask voters for more money Tuesday, he was off by years. It’s way past time for voters to acknowledge that our kids — and our community — deserve better than what the state’s meager funding formula allows.
The average Colorado school district receives $1,872 less per student than the national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The slow erosion of K-12 funding is due to a number of school finance legislative decisions dating back to 1982. In short, the combination of the Gallagher Amendment and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights have created a black hole of funding.
Within this depleted picture, D51 is one of 12 “floor” districts that receive the least amount of per-pupil funding in the state. Other communities have made up for the shortfall with bond measures and mill levy overrides. We haven’t and now we’re facing a tsunami of funding challenges.
But the school board has carefully considered the district’s most pressing needs. What they’re asking voters for is modest — $118.5 million in bonds for priority maintenance, new buildings and technology upgrades and $6.5 million in a mill levy override for operational needs.
The kitchen-table conversion: That’s about $5 more a month per $100,000 of assessed residential value, or $60 a year. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $120 a year to cover debt service on the bonds and generate cash for curriculum, teachers, technology resources and support.
Currently, D51 ranks 19th in total school mill levy funding among the state’s 20 largest districts. If both measures pass, it’ll only move up to 14th on the list. The school board has put together a bare-bones request. Optimally, the district needs a 1:1 ratio of computers to students to make the most of its performance-based learning model. The current ration is 3.46 students for every computer. If the ballot questions pass, they’ll only reduce the ratio to 2:1.
Unfortunately, the timing of the district’s ask couldn’t be worse. This is an off-year election. There’s no presidential or gubernatorial contest to drive voters to the polls. If you believe that D51 needs better facilities and resources, you can’t sit this one out because off-year elections tend to be dominated by anti-tax conservatives and voters in households with no school-age children.
The Sentinel’s editorial board stands firmly behind this funding request and we’ll revisit this issue with an endorsement for both measures before the election. This community suffers in two ways by not aggressively pursuing a school renewal program. We’re not providing the best learning environment for our children. But there’s a spillover. The sorry state of our schools reflects poorly on our priorities as a community. Good schools are a huge factor in luring workforce and companies.
This is a an economic development question as much as it is anything else. We’ve suffered long enough.