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School board gets briefing on school-finance legislation

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Lobbyist discusses bill overhauling funding formula

By Daniel Laverty

Legislation that would overhaul the way Colorado’s public schools are funded was the main topic during a meeting of the Jeffco school board on Feb. 28.

The district’s lobbyist at the state legislature, Ed Bowditch, reported on a bill by state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, that is designed to allocate state funds more equitably among school districts.

“It’s really too early to fully talk about it because everything (with the bill) is just now taking shape,” Bowditch told the board.

Under the current version of the legislation, state funds would be distributed based on a district’s property values and median incomes. By determining what each district could provide through local property taxes and adjusting state funding accordingly, wealthier districts would bear more of the costs than poorer districts.

The legislation still would base funding on a per-pupil allocation but would change how students are counted in a district. Under the current system, students are counted on one day, typically Oct. 1. The new system would count students on four days throughout the school year and compute an average.

Other facets of the bill would set aside funds for at-risk students and English learning students, and would provide full-day kindergarten in all of the state’s districts.

Johnston’s bill is contingent on Colorado voters approving a tax increase that would pump up to $1 billion into school funding. That tax initiative could be on the November ballot.

Jeffco school board members expressed some concerns about the bill.

“I feel like this takes away local control,” said board member Laura Boggs. “We were elected to decide what happens in our district.”

Board member Paula Noonan shared Boggs’ sentiments.

“We have our own strategies and values,” Noonan said. “These funding solutions that Senator Johnston has come up with make no sense right now. He’s taking control away from us to properly allocate what funds we know we need for our district.”

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said the state’s current procedures for funding education are flawed. Stevenson also said that there are both support and opposition to the bill among her fellow superintendents.

Board President Lesley Dahlkemper said she liked portions of the bill and asked Bowditch to keep the board updated on any changes as the bill works its way through the Democratic-controlled legislature.

 

Board districts in Jeffco

Colorado law requires boards with district representation to have the districts be as equal as possible in population.

The boundaries for Jeffco’s five districts have been in place since 2003, and population numbers have shifted since. The major difference is between Districts 1 (northeast) and 5 (southeast), with estimated populations of 100,029 and 112,678, respectively.

Tim Reed, facilities planner for Jeffco schools, presented two drafts of how the county could balance the districts’ population numbers.

The board decided on an option that would move some schools into different districts but would result in all districts having a less than 1 percent difference in population.

The Jeffco school board meets at 5 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month at 1829 Denver West Drive, Building 27, in Golden.

Contact Daniel Laverty at Daniel@evergreenco.comor at 303-350-1043. Check www.HighTimberTimes.comfor updates.