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Parent Update

April 15, 2014

Dear DCSD Parent,

We hope you are having a great spring. We would like to take a minute to update you on some legislative happenings that may impact our school district, as well as a conversation we are starting to have regarding our district’s capital needs. We apologize in advance for the length and appreciate your partnership in the education of your children.

School Finance

We are not sure if you are aware, but DCSD’s funding, like all school districts across Colorado, was dramatically reduced over the past five years during the “great recession.”  On an annual and recurring basis, we are short approximately $74 million. Statewide, Colorado K-12 education is currently short about $1 billion. You might remember the ballot question from last fall, Amendment 66, that asked Colorado taxpayers to add $1 billion to K-12 education but attached many “strings” to the money. That tax increase was soundly defeated in the fall. It turns out that as we sit here today, the Colorado State Education Fund has approximately $1.3 billion. Due to the extraordinary efforts of Representative Chris Holbert, Senator Mark Scheffel, Senator Nancy Todd, and Representative Polly Lawrence, there is currently a bill to restore $110 million of the $1 billion owed to Colorado school districts.

You may also know that 172 of 178 Colorado superintendents joined together in asking the governor and the legislature to make a concerted effort to begin restoring the dollars we are short by giving Colorado school districts at least $275 million of the $1.3 billion from the state education fund. We appreciate the work of the great state leaders mentioned above in getting us to $110 million, but we remain hopeful that our state leaders will raise that amount so we, like many other districts across Colorado, can add dollars to schools to reduce class sizes, fund specials/electives, pay for additional safety and mental health support in our district, provide employee raises, and more.

We would like to encourage you to thank the state leaders listed above who have been fighting for the 67,000 students in Douglas County by advocating for additional per pupil dollars with no strings attached, as well as additional capital funding for charter schools.

Some lawmakers want to provide additional dollars, but also want to attach “strings” like those in Amendment 66. The problem with this approach is that when districts across Colorado were cut, there was no guidance – no statewide requirement to raise class sizes, change computer rotations, or reduce specials/electives, for example – as it should be.  And therefore, each school district approached the reductions in a way that was right for their community and their students. The restoration of funds should be no different. This allows those of us who raised class sizes to meet our budget obligations to now restore them to lower levels. That will not be possible if we are forced to use the money as the state sees fit. This is also a violation of local control that has served Colorado well.

As you know, our budget is determined by the state and as we get more information regarding the school finance act, student success act, and others impacting our funding, we will send you updates. Again, we encourage you to get involved in these important conversations. We need our dollars back in Douglas County and our locally elected school board should determine where to put those dollars, not the state.

State Mandated Testing

Testing madness and the Common Core have also been a hot topic at the state capitol this year. We need a dramatic reduction of state testing, or at the very least, flexibility for districts like Douglas County that want the freedom to exceed the state standards by building fewer and better performance assessments that measure the things that our kids really need to know for their futures.  We need the opportunity to evaluate our teachers fairly – against the most important things they do, and they need freedom from, in some cases, thirty days of mandated testing. In addition to their work on the budget, we also owe a great deal of thanks to Representative Holbert and Senator Scheffel for their efforts to relieve the burden of state mandated tests. Please know that members of the State Board of Education – Deb Scheffel, Pam Mazanec, and Paul Lundeen – also deserve our thanks, as they are working to provide freedom and flexibility regarding state tests.

We are being pulled backwards by this statewide model that penalizes high performing districts.  Our students are being over-tested and underfunded.  We need to push back against those responsible and thank those who are collaboratively advocating for something better.

Exploratory Bond Committee

Finally, as you know, Douglas County School District is a growing school district.  In fact, it is predicted that by 2040, DCSD will have 18 high schools – double the number of feeders that we have today.  After some exploration, we believe we have developed an alternative to the “boom and bust” cycle that the district has historically used to manage growth. Alternatively, we have worked with our partners to develop a strategy whereby we could manage to the current tax rate for the foreseeable future and still meet our maintenance and growth obligations.

Over the next month or so, a bond exploratory committee will be talking with people throughout the community in an effort to receive feedback on this strategy. Ultimately, this exploratory committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Education regarding the pursuit of a bond that will fund growth and maintenance of the district by managing to the current tax rate. There will also be community education forums in the coming months where you can get additional information. We encourage you to attend and share your questions and feedback.

Please let me know if there is something we can do to support you and your family better.

Thanks,

Liz Fagen
Superintendent

Kevin Larsen
Board President

Doug Benevento
Board Vice President