The Douglas County School District will officially go to voters in November for a $60 million mill levy override and a $450 million bond, with assurances that not a single dollar would be used for arming teachers or a voucher program.
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At the Aug. 23 school board meeting, the board unanimously approved ballot language for two funding questions, which would go toward staff compensation, building three new elementary schools and capital maintenance.
The approved language for the MLO commits the district to using the money on salaries and benefits for all staff, including at charters. The board also unanimously approved a salary schedule, based on the MLO passing, to increase transparency about how the money would be spent.
Responding to public concerns about the money being used for any other purpose, such as vouchers, Superintendent Erin Kane emphasized that every dollar of the MLO is already dedicated under the proposed salary schedule.
“Once we move those (salary) schedules up, the money is spent,” Kane said. “Unless you plan to do a 9% decrease for everyone across the board, there is no using this for something else down the road. … I can’t see a universe, I’m happy to say out loud, at all where you could possibly spend it on anything except what’s in this ballot question.”
Concerns about the $450 million bond centered around whether any of the $15.5 million dedicated to school safety would go to arming teachers. Kane answered those concerns with a detailed breakdown of what the money would be spent on, including window hardening, camera upgrades and alarm systems.
Beyond that, every board member said they did not support arming teachers and only member Mike Peterson said he would consider arming staff outside of school resource officers.
“Do I want to arm teachers? Absolutely not, I can’t think of a case. But if we can’t get the SROs, which would be my first option for increasing our security, we should think out of the box,” Peterson said, suggesting school safety officers as an option.
Board member David Ray also noted the district’s current policy prohibits any staff from carrying weapons on campus except for exclusively employed security officers.
Similar to the approved salary schedule, the district also released a plan for the $450 million bond, committing all of the funding to capital projects.
A majority of the money, $216 million, is for constructing three new elementary schools and expanding two middle schools. 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.
Additionally, public comment from staff and families of Ascent Classical Academy, which left the Douglas County School District in 2019, asked that the school be included in distribution of the bond and MLO funding.
While Peterson and Kane said Ascent could always choose to return to Douglas County School District, the superintendent and all of the board members agreed that Ascent would not receive any of the bond or MLO funding because the district doesn’t have oversight of the charter.
“It’s the seven of you who are accountable for this ballot language and for the money being spent consistent with this ballot language,” Kane said. “Anything that goes outside of the district, (the Mill Bond Oversight Committee) can’t account for and you can’t account for.”
With official approval of the ballot language, district staff will be prohibited from advocating for the bond or MLO under Colorado law, so the burden of gaining voter support will fall to the board and volunteers.
Taxpayer impact for both the bond and MLO for residential property is $1 per week for $100,000 in assessed value. For a house valued at $500,000, the annual cost will be $255 and $1 million home would pay $410.
An issue committee, called Invest in DCSD, has already formed and started collecting donations to support efforts to pass the funding.
Additionally, all of the board members spoke of ramping up efforts to educate the community and gain supporters.
“I’m going to try and spend every day in between now and Election Day making sure our teachers don’t come to work the Wednesday after and have to have a really hard conversation about why this community doesn’t believe in them as educators,” board member Elizabeth Hanson said.
Ballots will be mailed to voters on Oct. 17.
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