By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) In a nod to former president George H.W. Bush, DougCo school board president Mike Peterson told a group of Larkspur Republicans, "Read my lips: no new teachers."
"That's what we're facing if we don't pass the mill levy override (ballot issue 5A)," he said.
Peterson told the traditionally tax-averse conservatives that the district faces a teacher shortage for several reasons, including that nearby districts Cherry Creek, Littleton, and Jefferson County pay average salaries of up to $11,000 more.
During his speech, Peterson stuck to the district's main points and again tried to clear up misinformation printed in the DougCo voters guide, specifically that taxpayers won’t owe more to the district should property values go up during the 2023 re-appraisal process because the MLO is fixed.
When discussing the bond (ballot issue 5B), Peterson emphasized how the district hasn't built a new neighborhood school since 2010 and how the 2018 bond only served as a bandage to fix the most critical building issues.
Peterson said plans for updated security, new schools, and expansions to existing schools wouldn’t happen if the bond doesn’t pass.
He also noted that district-run charter schools would receive about 25% of the total bond package. He didn't address or receive questions about two DougCo charter schools run by the state that will not benefit from the bond.
Public commenters asked the board to share MLO and bond money with Ascent Classical Academy and Colorado Early Colleges. Still, the board did not add language to the ballot to allow them to do so.
An audience member questioned how the district spends its money, pointing out that DougCo could see an increase in state per-pupil money next year and that year-end numbers show the district has nearly $200 million in undesignated reserves.
Peterson acknowledged the district has a surplus because it's run incredibly lean and that the reserves went to teacher and staff compensation this year, allowing for a raise and retention bonus. Yet, DougCo schools still need more money to close the compensation gap.
The commenter also implied the district misspent some of the 2018 bond, asking Peterson if it had been his business, would he have purchased the former Wildlife Experience building and the ACC South campus for $10.3 million and $7 million, respectively.
Peterson said both purchases were necessary since the district needed an alternative high school and room for career technical education. Ultimately, he said that even with needed renovations, they ended up with far more space than they could have afforded had they built from scratch.
Inmates running the asylum
A retired teacher and current substitute in the district said that when he goes into schools, it feels like the "inmates are running the asylum," and discipline has gone out the window.
Peterson responded, "What we're looking to do here, and I'm speaking as one director in Douglas County is, especially coming out of COVID, is to put all those distractions behind us and get back to the basics."
He said the board's role, mission, and vision is to set the educational foundation to ensure each child achieves their unique potential.
Peterson said one example of this is the new reading curriculum the district rolled out this year. He said, "it's been proven across the nation to work to increase literacy, not only for our mainstream students, but our students that have dyslexia and for our students with special needs."
Peterson also said the district is ramping up its efforts to prepare students for life after graduation, whether going to college, joining the workforce, or going into military service.
"I'll tell you what, my opinion as one director is that's not going on in a lot districts in the U.S. I think we've got a great superintendent, we've got good leadership, and we've got a new focus."
COVID vaccine requirements
Peterson told the group he'd received many emails from constituents concerned about the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) recommendation to add the COVID vaccine to the list of required school vaccines.
Peterson said, "It's not going to become a mandate unless the governor acts statewide. so if you're worried about it and thinking you don't want to vote yes on 5A or 5B because you think your child won't be able to attend school, it's not an issue."
The CDC only makes recommendations for the use of vaccines, but school-entry vaccine requirements are up to the state and local governments.