Jefferson County Public Schools board President Lesley Dahlkemper outlines services that will be restored or maintained in her district thanks to a new influx of funds from ballot measures approved last year.

Supporters of Jeffco's ballot measures watch returns tonight at Chad's Grill in Lakewood. Returns showed both measures passing, the first tax increases to pass for the district since 2004. Photo / Joe Mahoney
Supporters of Jeffco’s ballot measures watched the returns at Chad’s Grill in Lakewood. Both measures passed, the first tax increases to pass for the district since 2004. Photo / Joe Mahoney

The voters of Jefferson County knew it was time to step up for the future of students when they gave a resounding “yes” to ballot measures 3A and 3B last November.

Voters’ generosity ensured that Jeffco Schools would not have to make $45 million in reductions during the 2013-14 school year. These reductions would have resulted in the loss of 600 jobs and the elimination of important programs for our students.

The 2013-14 budget approved last week by the Jeffco Board of Education keeps our promises to voters, reflects the funding priorities of our community and demonstrates our focus on student achievement.

Here is what our students will keep and gain next year:

  • All students will have two more days in school, thanks to the elimination of furlough days.
  • K-8 students will be in school several more hours because there are four fewer early release days.
  • Class sizes will be maintained – not increased.
  • Elementary students will continue to have instrumental music classes.
  • Sixth-grade students still will be able to attend Outdoor Lab.
  • Schools will not see a reduction in teacher-librarians.

The board also restored salary cuts to 2010 levels for all Jeffco Schools employees. Employees sacrificed 3 percent of their pay during tough economic times. Additional funds from the state will cover these costs and the move results in increased days in school for students and more professional development for teachers and principals. Staff will continue to absorb the increasing cost of health care, which has tripled over the last 10 years.

Because we can’t predict the future, the 2013-14 budget will put $9.5 million in our rainy day fund to help us weather any monetary storms ahead. Not only is it required by law, it is fiscally sound decision-making. After all, it was the district’s rainy day fund – as well as employee salary reductions – that helped us prevent deeper cuts to classrooms. It’s time to slowly rebuild those reserves.

As the board took its final vote on the budget, motions were offered to increase the number of librarians in schools, reduce costs for Outdoor Lab and decrease bus fees. It was suggested that the money to pay for these additional costs would come from reserves.

As the economy improves, I’m hopeful we will be able to address these issues and others in the future; they’re sound recommendations. But now is not the right time to take on those additional expenses, and they are not true to the commitment we made to voters when they passed 3A and 3B.

The state has cut $1 billion from public education. Even with the passage of 3A, which provides $39 million in funding, Jeffco Schools is below 2009-10 spending levels. It’s important to underscore that 3A does not include new programs – it only maintains what we have now and helps prevent further budget cuts next year. We are grateful to Jeffco voters for their support of 3A and 3B.

The budget approved by the board on a 4-1 vote maintains the overall financial health of the district by balancing the learning needs of all 85,000 students and has been vetted over a long period of time with our community. It’s impressive that more than 3,000 people took part in the budget development process, which began with our Citizens’ Budget Academy two years ago and ended with public hearings this month.

Thanks to good financial stewardship, our students, staff and community have a strong, solid budget that saves valuable programs and people, and invests dollars where they matter most – on student achievement.