Douglas County School District staff proposed a way to fix the district's aging buildings without raising taxes, but the school board recently decided not to put the question on November's ballot.
Board members unanimously adopted the resolution not to participate in the fall election, citing concerns with the state's school funding formula, which they believe already puts an unfair burden on Douglas County taxpayers.
But a member of DCSD's fiscal oversight committee said other factors are at play.
“I think there are bigger issues the board is facing they need to resolve,” Dave Usechek said. “There is no doubt in my mind there's a need (for capital funding). But until there is positive support for the board, and no longer this bickering between parents and the board, I am not willing to support giving additional funds. Both sides need to resolve their differences and start working together for the best interests of kids.”
The board's July 15 resolution said the state's funding formula sends a disproportionate share of Douglas County taxes to other Colorado school districts, leaving DCSD “consistently underfunded.”
“The board is convinced that, because Douglas County taxpayers believe they are paying top-dollar for statewide education in the form of substantial income, sales, property and other taxes, they are simply unlikely to approve any local ballot measure that will further increase their tax burden,” the resolution reads.
DCSD is among the lowest-funded districts in Colorado. If it received the average state per-pupil funding for 2014-15, it would boost its revenues by about $269 per student — a total of $17.2 million.
At that rate, it would take 16 years to cover the $275 million in unmet capital needs.
Members of DCSD's Long Range Planning Committee have for years warned the board about deteriorating conditions in many of its aging buildings. DCSD has $275 million in unfunded capital needs over the next five years, according to the committee, a number that grows by $35 million each year the needs are not addressed.
DCSD chief financial officer Bonnie Betz recently proposed seeking voter approval to issue general obligation bonds without raising tax rates. Betz called the idea to leverage additional funds a “win-win.” Without such action, taxpayers eventually will see a decrease in their annual tax obligation to the schools.
Voters passed a similar refinancing mechanism in the Littleton Public Schools district last November.
Issues presented in the Long Range Planning Committee's 2014-15 Capital Master Plan include aging buses, boilers and roofs; outdated technology; cracked parking lots; unraveling carpet; safety and security needs; and new construction prompted by near-capacity schools.
“This seems urgent to me,” DCSD chief operations officer Thomas Tsai told the board during a June presentation to the board.
The resolution also states DCSD will continue studying fiscally responsible ways to address the district's capital needs.
Long Range Planning Committee Chair Todd Warnke said the group will continue following the resolution's directive to educate the community on the issue, gather feedback and return to the board with alternatives. That could include putting the issue on the November 2015 ballot, the last chance DCSD would have to continue the current tax rate.
Once tax rates begin to fall in 2016 and residents become adjusted to those lower assessments, Usechek said it would be tough to raise them back up.
“Until they get their ducks in a row, (passing any question) is not viable,” he said. “They'd better do it before 2015 because that's the last window of opportunity there is for no tax increase.”