Jeffco school board member Paula Noonan describes the cuts endured by the district in recent years and how Jeffco’s ballot measures will benefit the community.

I believe that Jeffco School District’s 3A/3B initiatives will pass. Jefferson County citizens want their children prepared for their futures, and they want to live in a prosperous community. Citizens know that dog-eared buildings and under-resourced classrooms won’t make the grade.

Wheat Ridge Middle School students
Wheat Ridge Middle School students plead to keep their school open during a 2010 Jeffco budget hearing. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

The crux of the arguments from 3A/3B opponents is that Jeffco schools have been overfunded and the district hasn’t managed its financial resources.

Not to pick nits, but I disagree. As a member of the Jeffco school board, I have watched this district scramble to deliver a quality education for kids while nipping at salaries and benefits for staff. I’ve seen the district try to continue programs and services while asking for more money from parents. This pathway is not sustainable.

The school district has two big budgets: the operations budget and the capital budget. The operations budget finances our on-going expenses. The capital budget finances big facility projects that have at least a 20-year lifetime. 3A/3B opponents conflate these budgets to make phony comparisons.

Jeffco’s operations revenue, at one time about $665 million, has dropped by about 10 percent since 2009-10. At first, the board made up the gap between expenses and revenue using our rainy day fund. This savings pot that used to be about 25% of the operations budget has been tapped, with a balance down to the 7 percent limit prescribed by board policy and TABOR. During these years, our schools have experienced steady reductions in funding from the state. Jeffco receives about $770 less per student from the state as compared to 2009. Jeffco has about 84,000 students.

3A/3B opponents do not talk about the hits our staff have taken since 2009. First, the Board froze salary increases based on inflation. Then we froze increases based on years in the system. Then we froze increases based on additional education. Then we reduced take home pay by six workdays, or 3 percent of salary. The Board has not provided any additional dollars to cover the increased cost of health benefits since 2004. Some employees are paying $1000 more per month for this insurance. All of these factors mean all staff take home significantly fewer dollars in their paychecks.

Meanwhile, other school districts, including Douglas County Schools, are returning salary to their staff.

The Board is not asking for a $39 million mill and a $99 million bond out of frivolity. We’re asking for more money so the kindergartners in school today will have the same shot at a quality education as kids in the system five years ago. Our 6,000 kindergartners should have access to instrumental music; school librarians; school counselors; reasonable class size; Outdoor Lab; and high school electives in drama, art, physical education, etc. Our staff should have reasonable pay and teachers will benefit from the professional development support provided by our instructional coaches.

Roughly $5 million from the mill will restore two school days. The remaining $34 million will continue programs, manage class size and reduce split classes, provide some funding for Outdoor Lab, and retain 570 employees who will otherwise be laid off. The $99 million bond will cover only our most serious construction needs. The District does not have an additional $450 million in either our operations fund or capital fund to take on the remaining necessary projects.

The Board is asking for roughly $36 dollar/year on a $250,000 home, and $108/year on a $250,000 commercial property. The district cannot count on any additional state dollars as there are already so many calls on that money. This modest increase, based on our local assets, will provide a huge return on investment.

My dad lived through the ’30s depression, fought in WW2 as a navigator in a B-24, was shot down over Austria, and was a POW for a year in Poland. Thankfully, he returned home in one piece. In the ’50s, the school district where I lived was having the same arguments as now over investing in schools. My dad said to the people of Culver City, CA, “I didn’t live through the Depression and make it through the war to chintz on my kids’ public education.” I agreed with my dad then, and I agree with him now.