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Feedback from school leaders shows teacher and staff salaries must increase for the Douglas County School District to remain competitive with neighboring school districts, interim Superintendent Erin Kane said.
“Based on the input that we have received from our school leaders, and what they have been hearing from their staff, staff compensation is the number one thing that is on everyone's mind,” said Kane. “Our inability to compete with our other districts — and losing teachers as a result.”
To address the issue, Kane outlined the district's recommendations for a mill levy override and bond measure at a March 20 school board meeting. The tax measures are being looked at for the November ballot.
A bond would address the district's capital needs, such as building repairs and new construction. According to its master capital plan, the district needs between $205 million and $269 million in repairs. A mill levy override, often referred to as an MLO, would address teacher pay, compensation and school programming.
The district's fiscal oversight committee researched three scenarios: a $250 million bond with no tax impact; a $250 million bond and a $20 million MLO, which would result in a $103 per year tax impact for the average homeowner; or a $250 million bond and a $30 million MLO, which would result in a $156 per year tax impact, according to Kane's presentation.
The district is contracting with a company that will begin polling constituents on any possible tax measures in April, according to school board President David Ray.
"The polling company comes back to us with an analysis," said Ray. "That gives us information to decide what questions, if any, we would want to put on the ballot."
Teacher pay and compensation would account for $15.7 million of the $20 million MLO. Charter teacher and staff compensation would total $4.3 million. A survey on charter schools' needs is open until March 30.
“That 15.7 million we would recommend using for the internal pay gaps,” Kane said. “It will provide a pay bump for everyone, throughout the school district.”
A $30 million MLO would cover teacher compensation and charter schools' needs, plus mental health and security for neighborhood schools, career and technical education. Mental health and security needs, such as getting a full- or part-time counselor in every elementary school and an extra counselor with a focus on mental health in high schools, would account for $7 million.
Technical education would use $800,000 of the $30 million MLO. Kane pointed out that there is a wait list for the district's technical education programs and many students are sent out of district for vocational programs.
“This is something that is very important to our community,” said Kane. “We hear that over and over again.”
The last time Douglas County passed a local bond or mill levy override was in 2006. Neighboring districts, including Littleton Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District, have each seen tax measures pass since then. The increase in funding allows those districts to pay teachers more than in Douglas County, where the average teacher pay was $52,044 during the 2016-17 school year. Jeffco's average teacher pay was $55,435, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Cherry Creek's was $69,110, and Littleton's was $64,917.
In Douglas County, the community voted down a $200 million bond in 2011, and a $395 million bond and a $17 million mill levy in 2008.
In her presentation, Kane also addressed 30 questions board members raised at a March 2 board meeting. Topics included the inclusion of charter schools in a bond, student growth, a campaign committee, building trust and ramifications if nothing is done.
Some board members raised concerns about how much money would go to charter schools, which typically don't receive money from a bond measure.
“How much schools can have in fund balance doesn’t translate to charter schools," said board member Anne-Marie Lemieux. "If there is a charter that has a very high fund balance, would we not include them in the bond?”
If charter schools are included in the bond measure, staff recommends implementing a reimbursement model for capital funds used, according to Kane's presentation. The survey on charter schools' needs will provide more information on what exactly charter schools would use MLO and bond measure funds for.
Kane highlighted the importance of addressing Tier 1 needs, which include code compliance issues and "assets, systems and components that are necessary to occupy a facility and/or may cause large financial costs if a breakdown occurs," the district's master capital plan says. Tier 1 needs over the next five years are estimated to cost between $91.4 million and $120.5 million.
“Not addressing Tier 1 needs significantly increases risk of building components failing,” Kane's presentation stated, referring to the highest priority capital needs. “Some components, like mechanical boilers and chillers, fire alarm systems and elevators, may either close a school or impact a portion of the school or program if they fail.”
Ray commended district staff and Kane for the thorough presentation.
"I just want to say, thank you for this presentation, and for working so diligently on our questions," said Ray. "We appreciate that."
Staff will address any outstanding questions from the board and the tax-measure conversation will be continued at an April 17 board meeting starting at 6 p.m. at the district's administrative building in Castle Rock, 620 Wilcox St. The school board has until July 30 to notify the county clerk whether it will put a tax measure on the November ballot. Ray expects the board to make a decision by June.
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