By Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) Now that a $60 million mill levy override (MLO) and $450 million bond are officially on the ballot in Douglas County this November, supporters plan to work hard to convince taxpayers they can trust superintendent Erin Kane and the board of education to allocate the money as promised.
After the abrupt firing of former superintendent Corey Wise, a call for changes to the district’s equity policy, and a series of lawsuits against the newest members of the board, less than 50% of a representative sample of voters indicated they’d vote for an MLO and bond in a poll.
But supporters say the district’s financial needs are so great that it’s time to put aside differences and understand that the superintendent and board are legally obligated to follow the ballot language.
“I can assure the community that all of the policies and procedures are in place for proper oversight of the money if an MLO and bond are passed this November,” said John Freeman, chair of the Mill Bond Oversight Committee (MBOC).
“We learned from the 2018 MLO and bond that the district could be better about sharing with the public who is making decisions about where to spend the money and how those decisions are made,” said Freeman.
He says the committee’s board representative Kaylee Winegar and superintendent Kane are open to publicly sharing more information about the financial details of the MLO and bond. A detailed proposal is available online, something Freeman says was not done in 2018.
Freeman also says that with a transparent compensation plan out there for the public to see, there’s no way Kane could change the promised allocation. "There’s no question how that money will be spent,” he said.
If you want a role in the MLO and bond’s oversight, there are a few open positions on MBOC. “You can apply to join or attend our quarterly meetings,” said Freeman. “I allow public comment at the end, and you can email questions to the committee at MBOC@dcsdk12.org.
DCSD could fall further behind
Freeman said his committee saw first-hand how lean the district operates in terms of personnel and how ongoing maintenance issues plagued school principals and administrators. He fears these problems will become more pervasive if a bond doesn’t pass.
“There was money in the general fund to pay for essential repairs and maintenance, but there wasn’t enough to consider upgrades and enhancements,” he said. Passing the 2018 bond gave the district much-needed breathing room to fix issues that had been lingering for years.
MBOC’s 2022 annual report shows that the bond benefited 89 neighborhood, magnet, charter, and alternative schools. The district purchased 30,451 computers, 64 buses, 1.7 million square feet of flooring, 238 rooftop units/HVAC systems, built an additional wing to Castle View High school, and hired 85 counselors.
“We heard from principals about how the bond money in their schools allowed them to stop worrying about when and if something might break down and focus on instruction instead,” said Freeman.
“Also, first impressions matter. Principals told us they struggled to recruit students and staff to their schools with out-of-date technology and worn-out interiors.”
He believes the district will continue to fall further behind neighboring counties that have passed more MLO and bond measures and have funding to pay their teachers and invest in buildings adequately.
If the bond doesn’t pass, he fears DougCo will have to return to a triage situation where only the most critical maintenance needs are addressed. “We will continue to bleed high-quality staff without the nice up-to-date buildings that are needed for proper instruction and without the ability to pay them comparably to other districts,” he said.