In addition to the $567 million bond Jefferson County Public Schools is seeking to address facility needs within the district, it is also asking voters to approve a $33 million mill levy override which will focus on the needs of teachers and students.
Mill levy overrides are paid for through property taxes. The impact for taxpayers is about $2.10 a month increase per $100,000 in residential value.
The largest portion of this (50 percent) will be focused on increasing competitiveness with surrounding school districts in terms of staff and teacher compensation.
“If we’re fortunate enough to receive any additional funding we would work hard to see how those dollars can be spread throughout all our employee groups,” said David Bell, chief human resources officer for Jeffco Public Schools.
Increased teacher compensation and competitiveness with surrounding districts has been high on the agenda for the school district for the past couple years.
After the previous failure in 2016 of a $33 million mill levy override, the board of education named teacher compensation as a top priority going into the 2018 budget.
The district later identified $20 million in cuts and retirement savings to address pay for paraprofessionals and step raises for teachers, but fell short of the regional competitiveness the district had hoped for.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, the average teacher salary in Jeffco for 2017-18 was $57,154, which is lower than four of the six surrounding districts. The lack in compensation potentially making it hard for the district to attract and retain quality teachers.
“We are fairly competitive in the metro area,” Bell said. “A lot of our retention comes from long-term established teachers in Jeffco. If they left, they wouldn’t have 25 years accredited in another district, so they stay.”
The problem, Bell said is competitive salaries for teachers early in their career.
“Right now it appears that we are a training ground for our educators who can go to any other district around us and made 5-15 grand more per year,” said board member Ali Lasell, at the Sept. 6 Board of Education meeting when the ballot language was finalized. “This ballot language will help stop that and it will help us support our direction and our vision.”
Similar to the district’s bond question, the mill levy override has accountability stipulations that none of the funds will be used for senior central administration, spending would be monitored by a citizen oversight committee, and be subject to an annual external audit.
Bell said it’s important to note that half the dollars from the mill levy override would be directed for specific programs.
“It’s not all about compensation,” he said. “There is a lot happening in the district and we are trying to address that through multiple avenues with the mill levy override.”
The other 50 percent
The other 50 percent of the mill focuses on mental health and school security; career and technical education and STEM options; instructional resources, supplies and technology; and early childhood education.
“We recognize that social, emotional safety is every bit as important as physical safety and security,” said John McDonald, executive director of the district’s security and emergency management. “Having well-trained security personnel, campus security and armed patrol is needed in today’s school environment. The other piece to that though, is social, emotional safety for students struggling. We’ve seen suicide threat assessments increase — and our teams do a wonderful job, but to keep up it requires that we have the same supports in place.”
McDonald said the issues in high school a decade ago are now issues his team sees in middle school today. Those range from eating disorders to cutting and suicidal ideation to sexual abuse.
“Any number of things they are happening in today’s environment,” McDonald said. “We really have to make sure we’re protecting both sides of the student safety spectrum. What the mill levy recognizes is that there is a need for both and we need to make sure we have those people in place.”
Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass said the additional funds from the mill will also allow for the district to cover expenses of instructional materials included books, ipads and chrombooks, which are currently being paid for by individual schools or through parent fees.
Ten percent of mill dollars would be dedicated to expanding full-day early childhood education.
Glass said this includes expanding the early learning program to more sites in addition to moving to a full-day program.
“We’d be moving it to a school day and we’d be working to increase the quality of the staff that are in those schools to have certified and licensed Colorado Department of Education certified teachers.”
Currently teachers in the Jeffco early learning program have Department of Health certification, which are not the same as a teachers’ license.
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