Colorado’s 2013 election is a great example of the old cliché that all politics is local.

Aside from Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 statewide tax increase, and the proposed marijuana tax, ballots around the state are dominated by local races and questions.

IllustrationIn Arapahoe County, for instance, there are five city elections for nearly 20 offices and nine ballot measures and five school district elections for 13 board seats, plus two school ballot measures. (That’s not to mention the 15 special district questions on Arapahoe ballots.)

School board elections are a common feature on ballots around the state, although the number of proposed district tax measures is down compared to recent years, partly because some school boards were reluctant to compete with A66 for voter attention.

Elections this year are being conducted this year with mail ballots that voters will need to return by mail or at voting centers.

Here’s a quick review at how Election 2013 shapes up for education:

Statewide issues

The vote on A66 sets up a watershed moment for education funding in Colorado. Passage of the income-tax increase would create significant new revenues for public schools and trigger implementation of Senate Bill 13-213, a sweeping change in how funds are allocated to individual school districts.

Defeat of the amendment could well lock schools into a tight “new normal” of funding that is some $1 billion lower than it would have been if not for recession-induced budget cuts in recent years.

Proposition AA, the proposed taxes on recreational marijuana, also has education implications in that some of the revenue would be earmarked for school construction.

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School board races

Colorado’s 178 school boards are organized in a variety of ways. Many boards have five members, some have seven; many board members serve at-large while others represent areas within districts. Some boards preside over multi-million-dollar enterprises; others oversee small budgets and a few hundred students.

But all school board members are elected, and all run in November of odd-numbered years.

There’s also great variation in the intensity of board races, with hot contests in some districts and cancelled elections in others because there weren’t enough candidates to make a race.

For instance, among the 10 largest districts, there are strongly contested races in Denver, Douglas County and Jefferson County and full slates of candidates in Adams 12-Five Star, Aurora and Colorado Springs District 11.

But only one of two seats is contested in Cherry Creek, and only one of three in Poudre. And Boulder Valley and St. Vrain cancelled their board elections because there weren’t enough candidates to make a race.

Among El Paso County’s 15 districts, about a dozen have at least one contested seat. (El Paso has the largest number of districts of any single county.)

Denver and Douglas County have the highest profile races. In DPS, where four of seven seats are on the ballot, the races are a replay of recent years’ contests in that they put a group of candidates who support the administration’s reform initiatives against a group who are more skeptical of those policies and more supportive of neighborhood school improvement.

In Dougco, there’s a similar four-versus-four split, with challengers attacking the current board’s operating procedures and financial management, among other issues.

The intensity seems a bit lower, but Jeffco has a similar split between administration supporters and critics in its three races.

The Dougco election in 2009 was marked by over Republican Party involvement in the board races, leading to a takeover of the board. This year the GOP is backing certain candidates in both counties.

There’s also an overlay of partisanship or ideology in a few other districts’ races. In Grand Junction’s Mesa 51 contests the county GOP is backing certain candidates. An in northern Colorado’s Thompson district a tea party-type group named Liberty Watch is backing a slate.

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District tax proposals

School district tax proposals were the big election story in 2012, when voters in 29 school districts approved 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion. Districts had 38 proposals worth about $1.03 billion on the ballot.

The list is shorter and the ask is smaller this year. Some 23 districts have tax measures on the ballot, but the amount requested is only $206.4 million, according to information compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project. And the largest proposal, an $80 million bond issue in Littleton, wouldn’t require additional property taxes but merely asks voters to approve continuation of an existing tax.

Other proposals of note include a $44 million bond issue in Commerce City and tax overrides for operating expenses in Westminster ($5.2 million), Lewis-Palmer ($4.5 million) and Canon City ($1.3 million).

Six small districts are seeking $30.4 million worth of bond issues to raise the matching funds needed to qualify for state Building Excellent Schools Today construction grants.

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