Colorado

Election 2010: Voters say yes to districts

Few Colorado superintendents could have been happier this week than Mapleton’s Charlotte Ciancio, who learned Tuesday night that sometimes three strikes don’t mean you’re out.

This election marked the Mapleton school district’s fourth consecutive attempt to win voter approval of a bond issue to build and repair schools. Each year, the yes-no vote tally got a little better – from a 44%-56% loss in 2007 to this week’s 58%-42% win.

“If you look at where we started, we were building every year,” Ciancio said Thursday. “It’s taken us four years to build the momentum in the district.”

Despite the lingering recession and a strong case of mid-term election malaise, Colorado voters this Election Day said no to three “tax relief” ballot measures that educators feared would devastate their schools and yes to six of 11 school district bond issues.

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They also approved 16 of the 22 tax increases proposed by districts to bolster operating budgets hit by cuts in state education funding.

Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Poudre School District that includes Fort Collins, said district and community leaders “wrestled” with whether to seek a $120 million bond issue and a $16 million operating increase, given the dismal economy.

They went ahead – “We wanted to give voters an opportunity to make their own decisions” – and voters responded by agreeing to both.

“I want to say … how much we appreciate the community’s support,” Wilson said. “Our students are going to be the beneficiaries for years to come.”

‘Aversion to tax increases’

Voter approval did not extend to the state’s largest bond proposal, a $125 million bond issue in the growing Falcon School District in northeastern El Paso County.

Bond issues in two adjacent districts – Peyton and Elbert – also failed.

Falcon spokeswoman Stephanie Meredith said the bond dollars would have helped relieve overcrowding in a district operating at 103% capacity.

“This bond was part of our strategic long-term plan to make sure our district was prepared for the growth projected for our area,” Meredith said. “It narrowly failed so it’s extremely disappointing for the district. It presents us with some very serious challenges.”

The district has struggled in recent years, with three superintendents in as many years and a recall effort against two school board members.

Falcon also abuts Colorado Springs, which won national attention this year when city officials put a police helicopter for sale on the Internet and turned out streetlights, among other budget measures, after voters rejected a property tax hike last November.

Meredith said some are questioning whether Falcon’s loss is due to “an aversion to tax increases of any kind.”

El Paso County voters did not differ from the rest of the state, however, in soundly rejecting ballot measures 60, 61 and 101 – touted by supporters as “tax relief.” The measures would have severely limited government borrowing and debt, including the state’s interest-free loan program to districts.

Three districts put tax increases on the ballot that would have gone into effect only if Amendment 61 passed. Voters in two of those districts, Summit and Estes Park, said yes; East Grand voters said no.

Those results are moot given the final vote tallies on what opponents dubbed “the Bad Three.” All lost by margins of at least 2-to-1.

Restoring district budget cuts

All three Colorado school districts seeking double-digit operating increases were successful, including the Boulder Valley School District at $22.5 million, Fort Collins’ $16 million and Littleton Public Schools’ request for $12 million.

In Boulder and Fort Collins, the sales pitches emphasized, in varying degrees, plans to restore budget cuts due to declining state revenue.

Boulder leaders wrote it into their ballot language, listing “restoring critical budget cuts” and “mitigating future budget cuts” as their top items. The district also will fulfill its agreement with teachers, who would not have received raises next year without the tax increase.

In Littleton, leaders made it clear that the new dollars could not make up the deficit. The district, which also is dealing with declining enrollment, has closed two schools, cut 200 jobs and required staff to take furlough days.

“This election was all about stabilizing and maintaining what we have right now,” said district spokeswoman Diane Leiker. “The cuts that have happened in the past are not likely to be restored.”

School districts going to the ballot in 2010 defied economic uncertainty and tradition – research by the Colorado Association of School Executives has shown school tax measures do better with the larger turnouts in presidential elections.

In 2008, districts set a record by asking for a total of $2.6 billion in bond issues. Then in 2009, as the fiscal picture darkened, only five districts sought bond issues and just three asked for tax increases for operating dollars.

‘Investing in what works’

Some districts also had special circumstances this year.

Fort Collins was able to pass a $120 million bond issue for repairs and technology even as school board members mull school closures.

Wilson believes that may be one reason voter approval of the bond – at 51%-49% – was less than the 56%-44% approval of the operating increase. Bonds historically perform better at the polls.

Still, both were successful.

“A lot of it has to do with a very supportive community who highly values a quality education,” he said.

In Mapleton, district leaders have benefited from a recent surfeit of good news, from the release of a book about their reform efforts to media reports on their rising state test scores.

Next week, the district will be featured on the Evening News with Katie Couric.

Ciancio also believes voters were loathe to pass up the chance of a matching $32 million state grant.

“People want to know they’re investing in something that works,” she said. “I think those elements definitely helped our community understand this was the best bang for the dollar.”

Election 2010: Results for school district tax questions


Bond issues* – Pass
  • Poudre – $120 million
  • Mapleton – $32 million
  • Salida – $18 million
  • Akron – $8 million
  • Center – $4.7 million
  • Holly – $3.4 million

Bond issues – Fail

  • Falcon – $125 million
  • Florence – $5.4 million
  • Elbert – $3.5 million
  • Peyton – $2.6 million, $750,000 (separate requests)

Operating increases – Pass

  • Boulder – $22.5 million
  • Poudre – $16 million
  • Littleton – $12 million
  • Durango – $3.2 million
  • Summit – $2.15 million
  • Aspen – $1.3 million
  • Clear Creek – $775,000
  • Holyoke – $400,000
  • Moffat – $350,000
  • Sierre Grande – $350,000
  • South Routt – $349,314
  • Hayden – $321,473
  • Branson – $205,000
  • Pritchett – $100,000
  • Woodlin Pass – $75,000
  • Kit Carson – $45,000

Operating increases – Fail

  • Brighton – $3.2 million
  • Burlington – $600,000
  • Cripple Creek – $574,000
  • DeBeque – $485,277
  • West Grand – $420,000
  • Agate – $90,470

Operating increases for Amendment 61**

  • East Grand – $4 million – Fail
  • Summit – $3.5 million – Pass
  • Estes Park – $2.5 million – Pass

*All bond issues with the exception of Falcon, Poudre and Peyton’s $750,000 request qualified for state matching grants through the BEST program. Akron was an alternate and qualifies because other districts failed to pass their requests.
**Amendment 61’s failure means these increases are invalid.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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