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Jeffco schools to feel squeeze after rejection of 3A/3B

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By Vicky Gits

Fewer teachers, less new technology and a virtual freeze on new construction and remodeling are in store for Jeffco schools in the wake of the failure of ballot issues 3A and 3B on Nov. 4.

The companion bond and mill-levy issues were defeated by narrow 3 percent margins, indicating how deeply the county was divided. It was a stark reversal compared to 2004, in which similar school measures passed with 60 percent of the vote.

“We were pretty heartbroken. It was tough to take. But the economy was a big consideration,” said Phyllis Albritton of Evergreen, mountain area coordinator for Citizens for Jeffco Schools. “Honestly, most of the people, when we were doing grocery stores and phone-banking, were very supportive.”

The economic crisis generally was thought to be the root cause of the defeats, but that doesn’t explain why other school districts such as Aurora, Denver and Cherry Creek were successsful with similar large bond requests, such as $454 million for Denver schools.

When election night was over, the results statewide were mixed. Of 27 proposed bond issues, 14, or 52 percent, passed. Of the 29 proposed mill levy increases, 14 also passed, accoding to the website www.EdNewsColorado.

Douglas County, Brighton, Pueblo, Mesa County, Mapleton and Adams 12 all had bond and mill-levy issues that failed.

Projects on hold

The Jeffco bond issue would have raised $350 million to build and upgrade schools, without generating a tax increase. The 4.4-mill property-tax increase would have meant about $88 more tax a year for a $250,000 house and raised $34 million a year.

In Evergreen, Wilmot Elementary School won’t get a new gym with a stage for children’s theater; the lab will not get more computers.

Marshdale Elementary will have to wait for $3.4 million in improvements. Conifer High will not have an $8.4 million gymnasium addition, and Evergreen Middle will do without the second phase of an updgrade for $10 million, which would have meant doing away with the modular classroom space.

But the most immediate effects are likely to be felt in the staffing area, said Cindy Stevenson, Jeffco superintendent.

Stevenson maintains there is no room to cut administration, which makes up $23 million, or 4 percent, of the $613 million the district receives in school funding.

“It’s really hard …,” Stevenson said.

“We will lose between 400 and 500 jobs over the next three or four years. It’s either compensation or people. The only way is to eliminate jobs.”

The school district has to find $35 million of reductions for the budget year beginning July 2009, a process that has already begun.

The effects will become apparent in March, when some teachers will find out they won’t have jobs.

“What we hope is we can use attrition and less hiring to reduce the budget, but I can’t promise that will be enough,” Stevenson said.

She predicted that class sizes will get larger beginning in 2009. (The current target student-teacher ratio stands at 20 students per class in first, second and third grades; 24 students in fourth grade; 28 students in fifth and sixth; and 28 students in middle and high school.)

Credit upgrade at stake

High school graduation requirements could become an issue again. The school board approved raising the graduation requirements by two credits (equals one class for four semesters). But that was before the economy hit the skids.

“When I look across the metro area, the majority of school proposals were defeated, such as Douglas, Jeffco, Brighton, Elizabeth and Colorado Springs. The only thing in common is the economy. I think people are freaked out by the ups and downs,” Stevenson said.

Or it could be a case of ballot fatigue. The school votes came at the end of the longest ballot in Colorado history, and the results show that of the 290,156 people who voted, more than 17,000 failed to vote on 3A, and 25,000 failed to mark 3B on the ballot.

Lesley Dahlkemper, co-chair of the parents group that distributed 15,000 yard signs, Citizens for Jeffco Schools, cited the economy and possibly the Tabor Notice for the downfall.

The Tabor Notice included a satirical essay, facetiously endorsing the ballot proposal as providing “six-digit range” salaries” for teachers in three or four years, among other things. The Tabor Notice is produced by the county and delivered to all voters.

Dahlkemper said the citizens group had enthusiastic support. Every school had a point person for 3A and 3B. Supporters placed about 15,000 yard signs, knocked on thousands of doors and did a lot of phone-banking.

“I am aware that principals have been talking with staff about what the cuts mean,” Dahlkemper said. “It’s going to be a huge reality check.”

 

Proposed reductions

Employee budget work groups and community members have been asked to provide a tentative list of reductions totaling $35 million, or 6 percent, over three years.

Elementary reductions

$11,421,000

• Loss of teachers

• Loss of assistant principals

• Loss of custodial support

• Loss of clinic aide time and paraprofessional support

• Loss of instructional funding

Middle-school reductions

$3,509,400

• Loss of teachers

• Loss of assistant principals

• Loss of instructional funding

• Loss of custodial support

• Loss of clinic aide time and paraprofessional support

Senior high reductions

$8,394,900

• Loss of teachers

• Loss of assistant principals

• Loss of instructional funding

• Loss of counselors

• Loss of custodial support

• Loss of clinic aide time and paraprofessional support

• Loss of campus supervisors

• Reduction in senior high bus routes

• Slowing or eliminating the expansion of Warren Tech

Central services

$12,183,400

• Loss of support in budget and accounting

• Loss of support in curriculum, leadership training, teacher training, and instructional coaches

• Loss of transportation

• Loss of maintenance and custodial support

• Loss of technology support in both operations and instruction

• Loss of human resources support including hiring and substitutes

For a complete list of preliminary recommended reductions, visit http://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/finance/index.html

Jeffco Public Schools reserve fund spending plan

The school district has been putting money into the reserve fund, or  a savings account for operating expenses, as part of its spending plan since 2005.

There will be $172 million in the fund by July, of which $123 million is available for spending. By 2013, the reserves will be spent down to minimum levels.

This money will be used according to the following schedule.

By 2013 district will have to make further budget cuts or find more revenue to  make up for depleting its savings account. 

Projected pay-down  by year

$172 million:  Reserves as of July 2008 (end of fiscal year)

Amount of reduction:

• $15 million:  2008/2009

• $23.6 million:  2009/2010

• $22.7 million:  2010/2011

• $24.8 million:  2011/2012

• $26.9 million:  2012/2013 

• $59 million:  Amount remaining in fund by 2013, of which approximately $50 million is mandated by the law and board policy.