School districts test voters’ mood

Despite the fragile economy and perceived voter grumpiness about taxes, 33 Colorado school districts are seeking tax increases in this election, for construction bonds, operating revenue or to provide Amendment 61 escape hatches.

Among the larger districts proposing bond issues are Falcon ($125 million), Poudre/Fort Collins ($120 million) and Mapleton ($32 million).

Larger districts seeking mill levy overrides – higher taxes for operating expenses – include Boulder ($22.5 million), Brighton ($3.2 million), Durango ($3.2 million), Littleton ($12 million) and Poudre ($16 million).

The list of districts was compiled and released by the Colorado School Finance Project, a research and advocacy organization.

Colorado voters have a generally positive history of passing bond issues and overrides. But ballot measure prospects this year could be complicated by the economy, voter emotions about government and taxes and the presence on the ballot of statewide amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, three complex and controversial measures that could mean dramatic cuts in state and local revenues if passed.

But other factors have pushed districts to seek more money, including the need to raise matching funds for state Build Excellent Schools Today grants and a desire to replenish operating budgets that have been squeezed by cuts in state school aid.

Referring to that budget squeeze, Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said, “These districts have looked at the writing on the wall, and they’ve decided now is the best time to ask.”

There are “two schools of thought” among districts, Caughey said, with others probably waiting until 2011 in hopes the economy may improve and voters will be less uncomfortable about raising taxes.

Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, echoed those comments, saying, “A lot of school districts are looking at their bottom line … and trying to hold onto the programs they’ve got. … A lot is really driven by the financial condition of the state.”

DeLay added, “Whether any of them will pass is anyone’s guess.”

Bond issues

Only Falcon, which is dealing with enrollment growth, and Poudre, which wants to upgrade technology, security and building conditions, are seeking “stand alone” bond issues, for a total of $245 million.

Eight other districts have proposed bond issues totaling $76.5 million to match BEST grants. The largest request is Mapleton’s $32 million, followed by Salida’s $17.9 million.

Overrides and Amendment 61

Some 23 districts are seeking overrides. The notable requests include:

  • Boulder, $22.5 million to restore budget cuts, expand early childhood education and improve staff pay.
  • Poudre, $16 million to offset losses in state aid and to maintain class sizes and restore cut positions.
  • Littleton, $12 million to offset state cuts and maintain classes sizes and workforce.
  • Brighton, $3.2 million to hire new teachers and fund instructional materials and new technology.
  • Durango, $3.2 million to maintain class sizes and attract qualified teachers.

The Summit County district has proposed a combined measure that includes $2.1 million to offset state budget cuts and $3.5 million to cover cash flow needs if Amendment 61 passes.

Only two other districts, East Grand and Estes Park, have proposed ballot measures related just to Amendment 61, the first for $4 million and the second for $2.5 million.

Because Amendment 61 would ban state debt, the treasurer’s office last summer canceled a loan program used by some school districts to manage their cash flow. That’s a problem for some districts, especially those with large local and small state revenues, because local property taxes aren’t paid until the second half of the budget year.

(See the full list of proposed ballot measures here.)

Mixed results in last two years

In 2009 only five districts sought bond issues. Mapleton needed $30.1 million to match a BEST grant but lost narrowly. The other issues in four small districts passed.

In 2008 there were 27 bond issues proposed, with about half passing and half failing. Notable losers, according to Department of Education records, included Adams 12, Brighton, Douglas County, Jefferson County, Mapleton and Mesa County. But Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and St. Vrain passed bonds, among others.

Only three districts sought overrides last year, down substantially from the more than two dozen that proposed them in 2008, according to CASE. The largest 2009 request, Greeley’s $16 million, failed. Fewer than half the 2008 override proposals passed, according to CASE. (See this CDE web page for links to information on bond issues and overrides.)

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.