by Paul Kashmann
In the years prior to 2008, before
our nation was thrown into the economic chaos now known as the Great Recession
Colorado stood shamefully low on the roster of states in order of per capita
funding for education.
Over the past three years education has been
among the state budget areas suffering additional major cuts as lawmakers
struggled to balance a budget bled dry by reductions in revenues from all
sources, and hamstrung by the constraints of Colorado’s TABOR amendment.
All of Colorado’s school districts are
feeling the pain, few more so than Denver Public Schools (DPS).
The state’s per-pupil funding for DPS
declined more than $800 – from $7,672 in 2009-10 to $6,872 for the
current school year – a cut of more than 10 percent in per pupil funding,
amounting to a loss of more than $70 million a year.
To address this crisis, the 2012 DPS
Community Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC), a broad-based group of 74
parents, community members, and business and civic leaders came together earlier
this year to evaluate DPS’ needs. The group made its recommendation to the
Denver Board of Education last month.
Bouyed by recent
negotiations that led to a tentative agreement on a new three- year contract
with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the CPAC is calling for a
two-pronged initiative on November’s ballot that would include a mill levy
override initiative to increase the property tax contribution to DPS $49
million a year, and a bond proposal in the amount of $457 million.
bond issue would be used to fund critical school renovation, maintenance
repairs, as well as funding new schools to accommodate DPS’s growing
enrollment. Over the past four years the district has seen an enrollment
jump of more than 8,400 students, with projected growth of
another 5,000 to 6,000 students by 2016.
The bond package as now structured devotes
$222 million to facilities and maintenance; $195 million to new construction;
and $40 million to technological improvements.
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg
said that the capital improvements are critical to address deferred maintenance
on nearly 14 million square feet of district facilities, including necessary
upgrades to school roofs, and all major systems – heating and cooling,
water, accessibility needs and fire detection.
The annual increase in the mill levy would
allow for “an ongoing investment in expanding educational programs,”
said Boasberg, as well as “funding academic support and student
enrichment opportunities by providing: expanded arts, music and physical
education opportunities; tutoring support for students who are behind;
expanded opportunities for full-day kindergarten and early childhood
education.” The $49 million package would add $4 million annually for
technology, $4 million for curriculum, $13 million for Early Childhood
Education, $11 million for enrichment activities; $15.5 million for
instructional support; and $1.5 million for counseling and related
The Denver Board of Education will consider
and vote on the proposal in August. If the board approves placing the items on
the November ballot and both are approved by voters, the DPS portion of the
property-tax bill of a typical Denver residence valued at $225,000 would
increase by $143 per year, or about $12 per month.
Anne Rowe is the board representative for
southeast Denver. Rowe notes that, “I think the proposed package is a good
thing. I want to dig more into the details, but the extraordinary need in the
district is maintenance. It’s not always the sexy exciting things that make the
difference. We need to start by making our buildings more efficient and
exciting facilities for education.
“The committee identified nearly $650
million in need, but the package they’ve put together devotes about $222 million
to maintenance. Difficult decisions had to be made to identify true structural
needs. When over half our buildings are over 50 years old there’s a lot of
maintenance required to keep them functional.”
Rowe feels, “It is critical to bring the
arts back into Denver classrooms – we’re supposed to be educating the
entire child,” but also supports extra expenditures for technological
improvements in the classroom: “We need to look forward, to be sure we can do
the kinds of programming we need to do to prepare kids for the world they’re
Addressing capacity issues, Rowe said,
“There are proposals for expansion or new construction across the district. In
southeast Denver we have an explosion in elementary needs. We’re looking at
building a new ECE-5 facility in the Hampden Heights area by Kennedy Golf
DPS Board of Education member Jeannie Kaplan
represents Denver’s central Denver neighborhoods. Kaplan wishes the board had
been formally involved in the discussions earlier in the process. “I look
forward to supporting the package,” said Kaplan, “but I do have some concerns
that need to be addressed.”
Kaplan would like to see a shift with more
dollars devoted to maintenance and less to new construction. “They started with
identified needs of $637 million in maintenance and settled at $222 million.
That’s about 35 percent. They identified need for $310 million in new build and
settled at $195.6 million – about 63 percent. I’m not convinced the need
for that much new construction outweighs obvious maintenance issues that will
get worse if not addressed right away. We’re going to need a high school for
Stapleton, but I’m not sure it’s with this bond issue.”
More specificity on how the mill levy
proceeds will be spent would ease Kaplan’s mind significantly. “So much is not
yet well identified,” she stated, pointing at areas like “enrichment” and
“instructional support,” and wonders, “That’s almost $27 million per year.
Exactly how will that be spent?
“Like I said, I believe in the district and
believe we need this money. I also believe it needs to be spent wisely, because
it’s coming from everyone’s pocket.”
For more information on the proposal, call
720-423-3200 or visit http://bond.dpsk12.org/.