Who Is In Charge

$325,000 for district tax elections

Updated 4 p.m. Oct. 29 – Contributions in district tax proposal campaigns have exceeded $325,000, according to campaign finance reports filed by a Friday deadline.

LogoA bit less than a third of that total is accounted for by the Douglas County Citizens for Education Reform, which is backing Issue 3A, a $20 million tax increase for operating expenses, and 3B, a $200 million bond issue. The committee has raised $83,470 and carried over $20,921 from a prior campaign.

The largest recent individual contribution is $5,000 from ICS, a Wyoming-based technology company. (See this article for information on other Dougco contributions.)

The committee has spent $79,156, including $35,530 in the most recent reporting period, which covers activity from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23. The bulk of the recent spending, $32,285, was with Wizbang Solutions, a Commerce City direct mail company.

Spending by committees in other districts is similarly focused on printing and direct mail.

After Douglas County, the next largest amount of money has been raised in Mesa County, where District 51 is asking voters to approve a $12.8 million override, a six-year increase in property taxes to compensate for the effects of recent budget cuts.

The Friends of District 51 has raised $48,975 and spent $43,886. The committee has had substantial support from corporate donors and the local affiliate of the Colorado Education Association. A large recent contributor was George K. Baum Co., the Denver bond firm, which gave $5,000. Baum is one of the small number of firms that work with Colorado school districts on bond issues and financing.

Other top districts

Here are snapshots of fundraising in other districts where committees have raised at least $10,000:

Roaring Fork ($4.2 million override) – A group named Children First has raised $29,432 and spent $15,059. The Roaring Fork Public Education Foundation donated $3,925 during the most recent reporting period.

Cheyenne Mountain ($1.7 million override) – Friends of Cheyenne Mountain Schools has raised $26,625 and spent $22,529.

Englewood ($50 million bond, $1.5 million override) – Citizens for Englewood Schools has raised $21,666 and spent $19,700. The most recent reporting period included a $1,000 contribution from JVA Inc., a Boulder engineering firm. (Like bond houses and teachers unions, architects, engineers and construction companies are frequent contributors in district tax elections.)

Eagle County ($6 million override) – Citizens for Eagle County Schools has raised $19,550, $17,550 in the latest reporting period. Spending totals $19,352, most of that also in the latest period. Major recent contributors include East End Partners of Avon $5,000; G.E. Johnson Construction of Grand Junction, $2,500, and Vail Resorts, $5,000.

Brighton ($4.8 million override) – Parents for 27J Students has raised $13,807 and spent $11,098.

Thompson ($12.8 million override) – Community Coalition for Local schools has raised $10,807 and spent $5,648. In the latest reporting period Loveland Surgical Associates gave $1,000.

Alamosa ($6 million bond) – Alamosans for Great Schools has raised $10,641 and spent $10,150.

Garfield RE-2 ($4.8 million override) – Friends of Garfield RE-2 has raised $10,632 and spent $2,864.

The Falcon district is proposing an $85 million bond and a $5 million override. Two committees, Investment in Our Kids and Commitment for Kids, are registered as active with the Department of State, but neither has filed any reports this year.

Building D70 Communities, a committee that’s supporting the Pueblo County proposals for a $35 million bond and a $3.4 million override, reported fundraising of $7,900 and spending of $7,714.

Education News Colorado reviewed Oct. 28 filings by 26 committees in 24 districts. The total raised was $325,722. More than $570 million worth of bond issues and overrides is being sought by 35 Colorado school districts this year. Four districts, Douglas County, Englewood, Falcon and Pueblo County, are seeking both.

This story was updated to include reports that weren’t available on Oct. 28.

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.