DCSD parents, school officials 'cautiously optimistic' about tax measures, which are narrowly passing

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Dozens of Douglas County School District staff, educators and parents at an Election Night watch party at a Lone Tree restaurant were on pins and needles watching the results of two tax measures that would provide additional funding for the school district.

As of 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, a $40 million mill levy override had 52.35 percent of the vote, with 137,376 ballots counted. A $250 million bond had 51.04 percent of the vote, with 137,308 ballots in.

“Right now, we are feeling good,” said David Ray, school board president. “I wish it were a little more solid, but we knew it was going to squeak by.”

The latest results showed the yes votes for the mill levy measure at 53.52 percent and at 52 percent for the bond, with a lead of more than 6,000 votes in both questions. The results are still not final and are unofficial, though it's likely they represent the vast majority of ballots cast.

Should both tax increases pass, a homeowner with a home valued at $470,00 would pay an additional $208 a year, or $17.33 a month.

Ballot Issue 5A, the mill levy override, would go toward teacher pay and school programs. Ballot Issue 5B, the bond, would go toward urgent building needs, new construction, transportation, career technical education and security.

Early results of the election point to a new era in a school district that hadn’t seen a tax measure pass in 12 years. Ballot measures on school funding were brought before Douglas County voters in 2008 and 2011, but voters rejected them.

“The future of our schools depends on these passing,” district parent Amy McDowell said. “I feel hopeful that the community values education and sees the worth of these measures.”

The last time Douglas County passed a local bond or mill levy override was in 2006. Jefferson County Public Schools passed a measure in 2012 and Cherry Creek School District passed a measure in 2016. Littleton Public Schools passed a mill levy override in 2010 and a bond measure in 2013.

The difference in funding has caused inequities in teacher pay across county lines. The average teacher salary for the 2017-18 school year at Jefferson County Public Schools was $57,154, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Cherry Creek's was $71,711 and Littleton's was $66,399. Douglas County's was $53,080.

Of the mill levy override funds, $9 million would go toward school-level funding, including special education, gifted and talented programs and career- or trade-focused programming; $8 million would go toward charter schools; $6 million toward allocating a counselor to all elementary schools and lowering the rate at middle and high schools from one counselor per 350 students to one counselor per 250 students; and $17 million would go toward pay gaps.

Over the next five years, the school district needs between $152 million and $200 million to address all Tier 1 items, according to an executive summary of the 2018-19 Master Capital Plan. Tier 1 items are building components that compromise school safety and risk school closure, such as a roof, fire alarm system, heating and cooling system, or generator.

Within the $250 million bond, $150 million would go toward Tier 1 and additional high-priority Tier 2 needs, which are critical building items that affect school programming, such as an athletic field.

If the bond passes when final votes are tallied, 15 percent to 20 percent of the funds would go toward critical repairs at Douglas County High School, the district’s oldest high school, as well as a 25,000-square-foot addition to Castle View High School, which is over capacity by 364 students.

“For the kids in Castle Rock,” said Douglas County High Principal Tony Kappas, also at the watch party, “it’s (like) Christmas.”

Capital reinvestments would account for $61 million of the bond. Of that amount, an estimated $3 million to $9 million would go toward charter school safety and Tier 1 needs.

And $39 million would go toward career and technical education and new construction. In the next five years, the district forecasts the need for two new bus terminals, a high school in Lone Tree and an elementary school in Parker.

As the results of the election trickled in, Douglas County Superintendent Thomas Tucker, wearing a campaign T-shirt supporting 5A and 5B, mingled with parents and board members. He remained “cautiously optimistic.”

“I am extremely honored to serve in a community that is putting education for our young people first,” Tucker said.

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