Transparency concerns could decide the success of Douglas County School District’s potential bond and mill levy override questions, yet school board directors have taken limited steps to address the headwinds.
Poll results presented to the school board in June showed a majority of voters wouldn’t support additional school funding in November, with many saying transparency and trust were major issues keeping them from passing an MLO and bond.
“When we ask what are the issues on the outgoing surveys, trust and transparency comes up,” Brad Geiger, a member of the MLO/Bond Exploratory Committee, said on June 7. “And if you ask who don’t you trust, every name on the board comes up.”
Colorado Community Media reached out to all of the school board directors to discuss transparency and trust in the district. Director Susan Meek was the only board member to respond to questions.
Meek said she continues to advocate for listening to and engaging with the entire community to respond to their concerns. Recently, she encouraged the board to do more voter outreach around what the board could do to address voters’ desire for more transparency and trust, but her motion failed.
“I think it takes time to build trust back after it’s been lost, and it requires telling the truth, ensuring our actions are congruent with our words,” Meek said. “We need to admit and recognize there has been damage done by actions taken and, I think most importantly, (commit) to work together as a seven-member board and (do) our work in public and following the law.”
Meek said much of the feedback she hears regarding trust and transparency revolves around focusing on education.
“There’s a common theme about removing partisian politics, having the board not endorse political candidates, attend events that are partisian in nature, not having board members make statements that are divisive in the community,” she said.
Board directors have unified around the need for new funding, voting unanimously to alert election officials of their intent to have questions on the ballot this November.
Superintendent Erin Kane is optimistic that board unification on the need for funding will help make the ballot questions successful. In an interview with Colorado Community Media, Kane said the funding needs are not about the board, but the students and staff.
“This is an issue that truly brings everyone together because it’s about our kids and our teachers and staff,” she said.
Kane is making a concerted effort to reach out to voters, communicate the district’s needs and answer questions. Kane has hosted and continues to schedule numerous online and in-person presentations to discuss the upcoming funding needs.
“We’re fully aware that we have headwinds and that we really need to get out there and build trust in our school district,” she said. “Honestly, our biggest headwind in Douglas County is always helping taxpayers understand how we’re actually funded, because it’s counterintuitive.”
Kane also points to accountability measures the district has in place for spending voter-approved money as a way to ensure a transparent process, including the MLO/Bond Oversight Committe, which was created following the 2018 bond.
Community members can volunteer to help oversee MLO/bond expenditures, making sure the money is spent as described in the ballot language. Kane added that the committee will be involved in shaping the specific ballot language for November’s funding questions to help with future accountability.
“You want to have enough (detail) that the taxpayers really feel like they know where the money is going, so we’re trying to get to that right level of detail,” she said.
The board will approve specific ballot language for the MLO and bond in August.