Ballot Breakdown: What local school districts are asking voters

Election

EL PASO COUNTY – Several school districts in El Paso County have issues on the ballot for the 2021 election, asking voters to help fund major projects and improvements to facilities.

Ballot Issue 4A- Falcon School District 49

The ask from District 49 for voters is straightforward: Raise the property taxes from 6.5 million ($139.43 on a $300,000 home, according to the district) to $8.6 million, which would go directly to staff compensation.

“Do you want to always pursue the best teaching force that we can and do we want to keep them once we have them. We have great teachers, but there is a lot of turnover,” said Brett Ridgway, Chief Business Officer for District 49.

Ridgway said many teachers are weighing their options on where to teach more than ever amid a national shortage of workers in the profession. He also said during his analysis of D49’s spending to other districts in the area, he found District 49 is funded at a lower rate and that the ballot initiative would bring the district to a “competitive balance.”

“We’ve always embraced the desire of our community to be efficient and be fiscally responsible – and we’ve done that. But at some point the level of revenue disparity cannot be overcome with simple strategies of efficiency,” said Ridgway.

No comments were submitted for or against the proposal in El Paso County’s TABOR notice, sent to registered voters in the mail.

Ballot Issue 4B- Colorado Springs District 11

A big ask from District 11 could have a big impact, Yes on 4b Campaign Manager Anthony Carlson said.

The district is asking voters to increase its debt by $350 million dollars without raising taxes.

“What this bond is doing is making sure that our District 11 kids have the resources and the tools and the schools built for a modern world, so they can contribute and be vibrant members of society the moment they graduate,” Carlson said.

Carlson says the money would go to completing specialized academic programs, such as the aerospace engineering program at John Swigert Aerospace Academy. Between that program and others, new technology and new spaces to house STEM and robotic programs at other schools are needed.

STEM programs specifically, Carlson says, can require much more space.

“Our schools were built for a generation before us. They’ve served us well for 50-60 years, but without raising taxes, we have the opportunity to make sure schools are built and last for another generation,” Carlson said.

For example, many schools have thick, concrete walls that block WiFi signals.

In fact, 16 schools have been identified as needing to be completely rebuilt or remodeled, with the average building age at nearly 60 years old in the district.

“The Beatles were dominating the Top 40, JFK was announcing our national mission to put a man on the moon when a lot of our District 11 schools were built,” Carlson said.

Comments submitted against 4A take issue with the size of the proposed debt, saying it doesn’t have an end date in the language, nor specific projects listed.

“The district is rolling in hundreds of millions in revenue and does not need to borrow one dollar. Property
values have soared. D11 can complete new projects and pay for them in cash,” read comments submitted to the TABOR notice.

Carlson says the district has been operating debt-free for around a year now, after paying down debt early from a bond issue from the early 2000s.

Ballot Issue 4C- Manitou Springs District 14

District 14 will make improvements to all four of the district schools if this ballot initiative passes.

The District is asking voters to raise property taxes by $3.09 million and increase debt by $43 million for those projects, a complete rebuild of Manitou Springs Middle School, and to provide matching funds the district needs in order to secure grant money from the State of Colorado.

Manitou Middle School is nearing its capacity of 330 students, with around 300 students currently enrolled, according to school principal Dustin Cady.

“We don’t have adequate space for our itinerant staff, such as our speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers. Last week we had our speech-language pathologist using my office to see students.” Cady said.

The middle school would be built on the high school campus, next to the SILC building. Plans for the district’s vision can be found on the district website.

“That would just give our middle school security improvement, views of Pikes Peak, natural lighting,” said Cady.

Other schools would see renovations, security improvements, and playgrounds. A list of projects was provided in the county TABOR notice. No comments were submitted opposing the initiative.

Ballot Issue 4D-Harrison School District 2

Issue 4D asks voters to allow the district to retain taxes collected over the TABOR revenue growth cap. No comments were submitted for or against the proposal.

Ballot Issue 5A- Peyton Joint School District 23JT

Issue 5A also asks voters to allow the district to retain taxes collected over the TABOR revenue growth cap.

Supporters of the issue say a “no” vote could threaten grant money or the district’s fair share of funding.

“Once the state money is refused due to TABOR limits, the money would be sent back into Colorado’s
Education General Fund for the redistribution to those school districts that are able to accept additional
revenues. Vote “YES” on issue 5A to keep local dollars at home where they belong,” read comments submitted to the County’s TABOR notice.

No comments were submitted against the proposal.

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