By Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) It's no secret that the Douglas County school board would love more money in the budget to increase teacher and staff compensation, build new schools, elevate programs for students, and fund several high-priority projects.
But whether or not DougCo voters are willing to grant their wish is largely up in the air. The board must submit a notice of intent to potentially participate in the 2022 general election to the Douglas and Elbert County Elections Office by June 21.
The notice of intent doesn't lock the board into putting a mill levy override (MLO) and bond on the ballot. Yet, with a cost of around $280,000 to file, it will signal a serious commitment to garner public support for the initiative.
A representative of the district's Mill Bond Exploratory Committee (MBEC) told the board it would hire a professional polling firm to reach out to a sample of representative DougCO voters to gauge the feasibility of winning approval this November.
The board will officially vote on whether or not to move forward with the MLO and bond issue on August 23. If they move forward, the Fair Campaign Practices law goes into effect, and board members can no longer speak publicly about the issue.
Mill Bond Exploratory Committee findings
During an April board meeting, MBEC described the district's needs as being so significant that asking voters for more money soon is "vital to the success of our current and future students and staff."
The committee presented that the district's most significant wants are to raise compensation to be more competitive with surrounding districts, build neighborhood schools, expand middle schools, and address staff shortages and inflation.
However, current economic conditions, like rising inflation, higher interest rates, and changing community demographics, may get in the way.
Plus, the DougCo County Assessor's office projects DougCo property values to spike, which could spell out higher taxes for voters. But higher taxes don't necessarily mean more school funding, a fact that many voters don’t likely understand.
A recent PTO/SAC survey found that teacher compensation and building maintenance are the main reasons for supporting an MLO and bond.
Staff support and the building of new schools came in second. The survey also found trust, transparency/accountability, and economic volatility/taxes as the participants' main concerns.
Changing DougCo demographics could hinder DCSD's financial needs
Since approving an MLO and bond in 2018, the number of DougCo voters without children has increased from 58% to 61%. The fear is voters without children won't support higher property taxes to pay for district improvements.
MBEC plans to target childless voters in its outreach efforts this summer. Older voters may own businesses in the community and stand to benefit from career programs that make graduates more employable.
Also, while childless adults or adults with infants and toddlers may not have children in the district, they could enroll in the future. It takes three years to build a new school, and ongoing building maintenance is essential for keeping schools vibrant for years to come.
Other demographic areas of focus listed by MBEC include unaffiliated voters, the business community, and areas where population growth is high, like Sterling Ranch and Crystal Valley.
MBEC will present its final report and recommendations to the district board on June 7.