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It seems likely that the Douglas County School District will ask voters this November for a $60 million mill levy override and a $450 million bond for staff compensation, building three new schools and capital maintenance.
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1. SHALL DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT TAXES BE INCREASED $60 MILLIONANNUALLY COMMENCING IN COLLECTION YEAR 2023 AND IN EACH YEAR THEREAFTER FOR GENERAL FUND PURPOSES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO:
RETAINING AND ATTRACTING QUALITY TEACHERS AND STAFF BY INCREASING DISTRICT SALARIES TO BE MORE COMPETITIVE WITH NEIGHBORING SCHOOL DISTRICTS;
AND SHALL SUCH TAX INCREASE BE AN ADDITIONAL PROPERTY TAX MILL LEVY IN EXCESS OF THE LEVY AUTHORIZED FOR THE DISTRICT’S GENERAL FUND, PURSUANT TO AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 22-54-108, C.R.S.; AND SHALL THE DISTRICT COLLECT PROPERTY TAX REVENUE PREVIOUSLY APPROVED BY THE VOTERS NOTWITHSTANDING ANY MILL LEVY LIMITATION; AND SHALL THE DISTRICT WILL BE SUBJECT TO AN ANNUAL INDEPENDENT AUDIT PUBLISHED ON THE DISTRICT’S WEBSITE AND EXPENDITURES WILL BE SUBJECT TO REVIEW BY A BOARD APPOINTED CITIZENS’ OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE?
2. SHALL DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT DEBT BE INCREASED $450 MILLIONWITH A REPAYMENT COST OF $775.5 MILLION, AND SHALL DISTRICT TAXES BE INCREASED $49.7 MILLION ANNUALLY (BUT WITH NO EXPECTED INCREASE IN THE DISTRICT’S CURRENT BOND FUND MILL LEVY RATE BASED ON THE DISTRICT’S CURRENT ASSESSED VALUE AND TAX COLLECTION RATE), TO PAY SUCH DEBT, ALL FOR THE PURPOSE OF:
UPDATING AND PERFORMING CRITICAL CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS AND MAINTENANCE AT EXISTING EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES;
IMPLEMENTING SAFETY AND SECURITY UPGRADES;
CONSTRUCTING AND EQUIPPING THREE NEW NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS AND ADDITIONS TO TWO EXISTING NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS TO ACCOMMODATE GROWTH AND REDUCE OVERCROWDING;
OTHER CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS AS DESCRIBED IN THE DISTRICT’S PUBLISHED BOND PLAN;
AND FOR ACQUIRING, CONSTRUCTING OR IMPROVING ANY CAPITAL ASSETS THAT THE DISTRICT IS AUTHORIZED BY LAW TO OWN; AND SHALL THE MILL LEVY BE IMPOSED IN ANY YEAR AT A MILL LEVY SUFFICIENT IN EACH YEAR TO PAY THE PRINCIPAL OF AND INTEREST ON SUCH DEBT OR ANY REFUNDING DEBT (OR TO CREATE A RESERVE FOR SUCH PAYMENT) PROVIDED THAT ANY REVENUE PRODUCED BY SUCH LEVY SHALL NOT EXCEED $49.7 MILLION ANNUALLY; SUCH DEBT TO BE EVIDENCED BY THE ISSUANCE OF GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS TO BE SOLD IN ONE SERIES OR MORE, FOR A PRICE ABOVE OR BELOW THE PRINCIPAL AMOUNT OF SUCH SERIES, ON TERMS AND CONDITIONS AND WITH SUCH MATURITIES AS PERMITTED BY LAW, INCLUDING PROVISIONS FOR REDEMPTION OF THE BONDS PRIOR TO MATURITY WITH OR WITHOUT PAYMENT OF THE PREMIUM OF NOT TO EXCEED ONE PERCENT; AND SHALL THE DISTRICT WILL BE SUBJECT TO AN ANNUAL INDEPENDENT AUDIT PUBLISHED ON THE DISTRICT’S WEBSITE AND EXPENDITURES WILL BE SUBJECT TO REVIEW BY A BOARD APPOINTED CITIZENS’ OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE?
Superintendent Erin Kane and her staff presented their bond and mill levy override recommendations at the Aug. 9 school board meeting and board directors discussed proposed language for the ballot questions.
Kane told the board that the proposed bond and mill levy override numbers were calculated to help the district address its pressing needs, keeping in mind the impact to the taxpayer.
The proposals would not result in a mill change and would cost a residential property assessed at $500,000 around $255 annually. The formula to calculate each individual residential property cost is $1 per week for $100,000 in assessed value.
“We were trying to balance making sure that we asked for a reasonable amount without going crazy because we want to make sure to build that trust with taxpayers,” Kane said. “On the bond, the reason is that the $450 million is a sweet spot for us. It’s a number that won’t increase the number of mills that we’re currently collecting on bond, so it’s a minimal impact to taxpayers.”
The $60 million MLO would go entirely to increasing staff wages across the board, including at the district’s charter schools. DCSD released a salary schedule based on the proposed funding passing to show what each individual would receive.
On average, teachers would see a 9% raise, non-licensed staff would see an average 8% increase and starting salaries would increase around 10% to 12%. Kane said this would help make the district competitive in hiring, which has been a huge challenge for all positions.
“It’s all throughout our district, every position is not competitive,” Kane said of the current situation. “I don’t want to imply that a $60 million mill levy override is suddenly going to give us Cherry Creek (School District’s) salaries -- they’re $1,900 per student ahead of us -- but $943 per student will really help overcome that gap, about halfway, and make a huge difference of our ability to be competitive.”
For the bond funding, the district plans to use a majority, $216 million, to build three new neighborhood elementary schools in Sterling Ranch, Crystal Valley and the Canyons, as well as expanding Mesa and Sierra middle schools.
“The utilization of those three schools of the three schools on this bond will be the most over-capacity in five years,” COO Rich Cosgrove said.
Around $139 million would be dedicated to maintaining existing buildings, $54.5 million would go to student programming, $15.5 million is for safety and security upgrades and $25 million for fees, contingency and managment.
Passing the bond would maintain current property taxes, but property taxes would decrease if the bond fails. On average, residential properties would save $10 per $100,000 in assessed value per year and commercial properties would save $40 per $100,000 in assessed value per year.
Many administration staff spoke to what the bond passage would mean for the district, and Executive Director of Schools Danny Winsor summed it up by saying it would mean the ability to provide for a variety of paths to success.
“This bond and mill is not just about a dollar amount, it’s about each and every kid and their story that comes to us,” he said. “It has to be about how we intentionally invest in each and every one of our students, their stories, their passions, so they have the opportunity to be something they’ve always dreamt to become.”
Should either or both the bond and MLO fail, Kane said the district would be looking at making hard decisions around staffing and deferring maintenance and construction.
“I’m always really hesitant to paint a catastrophic world-will-fall-apart scenario,” Kane said. “If this doesn’t pass, we’re exactly where we’ve been. … We will be able to continue to award steps to staff, we would have to adjust increases to the entire schedule based on available revenue.”
Kane also presented proposed ballot language to the board, which it accepted, but has not officially approved.
The board will vote on the ballot language at the Aug. 23 meeting and is soliciting feedback until then.
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