Douglas County School Board considers $60M mill levy override, $450M bond proposal

Money would increase staff pay, build new schools

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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.

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.

douglas county school district, bond, mill levy override, school funding, teacher pay, 2022 election, Erin Kane

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