Keeping class sizes low and increasing pay for teachers and staff were the top two priorities of about 100 mountain area parents, teachers, administrators and community members as they considered what should be included in the Jeffco Public Schools 2014-15 budget.
Also high on the list were early literacy programs, elementary math instruction, infrastructure in schools to operate necessary technology, and elective classes.
The group’s priorities echoed the priorities generated in an online community survey that 13,000 people took between Feb. 5 and 11. In the online survey, offering elective classes, paying competitive salaries, reducing class sizes, and increasing the use of technology were the four top priorities.
The group gathered at Evergreen High School for the first of six community meetings the Jeffco school board is conducting around the district to hear priorities for the next budget. The community budget forums have been a tradition in the district for many years.
“The board wants to be clear about the community’s priorities for the school district,” board member John Newkirk told the group. “Your voices are going to be heard.”
Jeffco Schools is projecting a $16 million increase in the amount it will receive from the state in 2014-15, a sharp contrast to the $78 million the district has had to cut from its budget over the past four years. Jeffco’s budget was $952 million for the 2013-14 school year.
Reducing class sizes has always been high on the list of community concerns, but this is the first time in several years that increasing teacher compensation made the list.
During the years when Jeffco was slashing its budget, teachers took a 3 percent pay reduction when the district cut days from the school year. For the 2013-14 school year, the pay cut was restored.
At the meeting, attendees watched a video that outlined priorities from the online survey and provided facts and figures about the district’s budget. Then they broke into small groups to discuss district priorities. Finally, each group’s ideas were relayed to the larger group and recorded, and responses from all six community forums will be provided to the school board.
“What was said here has resonated with me and will be part of our budget discussions,” Newkirk promised.
He added that anyone who wants to address the school board further may sign up to speak at board meetings; plus, there will be public hearings on the budget on June 5 and 19.
As part of the comment section of the meeting, attendees reminded the group that Jeffco’s standardized test scores are consistently higher than those of the rest of the state — and that the district shouldn’t change things that are working.
One discussion group suggested that Jeffco has developed a reputation for dealing with tragedy, so it should be proactive in providing more mental health counseling for students and staff.
Commenting on increasing teacher compensation, Pam Lindquist, an Evergreen parent who spoke on behalf of her group, said: “We have always been proud of our teachers. We want to see our teachers want to stay in Jeffco.”