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.)

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”