From teacher shortages to bus transportation limitations, the need for funding in the Douglas County School District is approaching a crisis level, said School Board President Mike Peterson during a Sept. 5 meeting with the Lone Tree City Council.
This November, the school district will ask voters to approve a $66 million mill levy override and $484 million bond.
Peterson — accompanied by school board member Susan Meek and Cherokee Trail Elementary Principal Josh Miller — highlighted the need for additional funding to the city council, which may consider a resolution to support the ballot questions.
“The biggest problem we’re facing is our competitiveness relative to other districts,” Peterson said.
In Douglas County, the starting salary for teachers is about $45,000, he said.
Meanwhile, in the Cherry Creek School District, the starting salary is $57,000.
Miller described the difficulty of recruiting teachers to Douglas County.
“We’re the lowest paying district in the metro area. The lowest,” Miller said.
At Cherokee Trail Elementary, located in Parker, Miller said none of his teachers live in Parker because they cannot afford to.
One of his teachers is working for Uber Eats after school to support her family, he said.
“We have the best kids in the universe,” Miller said. “But we are not able to afford the teachers to put in front of them to maximize their ability.”
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Budget impacting other staff, transportation
Peterson said Douglas County is not just losing teachers to other districts that offer higher wages. It’s every staff position, such as educational assistants, nutritionists and bus drivers.
“This year, we started out the year down 104 bus drivers,” Peterson said. “We have rolling blackouts in effect across the district.”
As previously reported by Colorado Community Media, throughout the school year, each bus route will run for four weeks and then be off for one week.
Miller said the bussing shortage is a huge issue for his school.
Because of the rolling blackouts, about 25 students were not able to attend school due to the lack of transportation.
The school reached out to community members for support to purchase some bikes for those children so they can come to school, he said.
Peterson said that when the school district asked voters for a mill levy override and bond last year, the need was urgent.
“This year, I’m telling you that we are moving from urgency toward crisis,” he said.
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Peterson says property tax increase does not mean more school district funds
According to the Douglas County School District’s website, the school district receives the majority of its funding from state and local property taxes, and a small amount comes from federal sources.
Funding is provided first by local sources of revenue, such as property taxes, per the website. The state then funds the rest based on a per-pupil equation, the district said.
“Every district has its per-pupil revenue set by the state, and so that doesn’t change,” said Susan Meek, a member of the school board.
Peterson said that since property value assessments recently increased, some people assume the school district will have more funding.
“That’s not true for the school district,” he said.
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According to Peterson’s presentation, when property taxes increase, that leads to the local sources of revenue contributing more and the state contributing less funds. The overall program funding, however, remains the same.
“The bucket doesn’t get any larger,” he said. “That’s something that’s very important for people to understand when it comes to our needs.”
What are the mill levy override and bond for?
The $66 million mill levy override is primarily intended to pay teachers and staff more competitively, as well as increase security support for schools, according to Peterson’s presentation.
The $484 million bond is intended to expand career and technical education opportunities, perform safety and security updates, and “ensure safe and adequate learning environments for students and staff,” per the presentation.
As previously reported by Colorado Community Media, if both the bond and mill levy override pass, then taxpayers would see a $20 increase per $100,000 of their residential property value.
For example, a $1 million home would pay $200 per year.
Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet said the city has not taken an official position yet on the ballot measures.
“However, I do expect that council will be entertaining a resolution on this in the future,” she said.
Those who are interested in learning more about the proposed ballot measures can visit funding.dcsdk12.org.