Littleton Public Schools wins tax increase to offset faltering state support

Ballot Issue 4C passes solidly; will stave off 'draconian' cuts

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Littleton Public Schools will stave off what district officials called catastrophic cuts after voters solidly approved Ballot Issue 4C, which raises property taxes to make up for eroding state support exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure was passing with 57.9% support in preliminary returns on Nov. 3, making it the latest in a long series of tax measures supporting the district passed by voters.

The measure approves a mill levy override that aims to raise $12 million in its first year, in efforts to offset slashed state funding and increased expenses related to the pandemic.

Had the measure failed, the cuts likely would have been wide-ranging, from layoffs to deep cuts to bus transportation, athletics and programs like Options High School.

Superintendent Brian Ewert said the measure passing means stability in an uncertain time.

“Without this, we would have been changing the face of the district,” Ewert said. “The community stepped up for us, which is pretty amazing considering we're in an economic downturn as well as a pandemic.”

The district, which serves about 15,000 students, is facing reduced state funding of about $18.5 million in the 2020-2021 school year, part of ongoing statewide cuts stretching back to the Great Recession called the “negative factor” — a policy of withholding funds otherwise due to schools under the terms of Amendment 23.

The $18.5 million shortfall is more than double the "negative factor" imposed on Littleton in the 2019-2020 school year, largely as fallout from $3.3 billion in statewide cuts approved by the Colorado legislature in May as coronavirus wreaked havoc on state tax revenue collection.

The gap between the state cuts and the federal funds this year will be exacerbated by a further $4.2 million in cuts already approved by the LPS school board last fall, caused by rising costs and stagnant state funding, spurring the district to eliminate 17 positions.

Though the district received a one-time cash infusion of more than $6 million from the federal CARES Act, the district is facing a wide range of rising costs, including the cost of running the TOPS program, a fully-online alternative to in-person learning that will run at least through the end of this school year and could top $5 million in expenses.

Even with the passage of 4C, the district isn't out of the woods yet, Ewert said.

“This will stabilize the conversation, but we still may have to make cuts — they just won't be so draconian,” he said.

Currently, district residents pay a mill levy rate of 59.266 toward LPS, or $423.75 per year per $100,000 of home value.

The measure will raise the mill levy on homes in the district by 6 mills in its first year, with the option to increase by one mill per year, up to a maximum of 11. The 6-mill increase would be $42.58 per year per $100,000 of home value.

That means on a home valued at $500,000, the measure will increase the annual taxes paid toward LPS from $2,118.75 to $2,331.65.

The amount a homeowner would pay if the mill levy was increased by 11 over five years is difficult to estimate because mill levy payments are based on the property tax rate, which is subject to fluctuation. If the rate remained steady at 7.15%, a full 11-mill increase would result in an increase of roughly $78 per year per $100,000 of home value.

Ewert said he recognized that the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis is a hard time to raise taxes on many people, but said the district is an economic engine that helps buoy property values.

“One major value that drives families to Littleton is our high-performing school district,” he said. “The money you pay out comes back in the form of district employees living and spending their money here, and it comes back in the form of well-educated students.”

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