By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) Staunch conservative and DougCo school board president Mike Peterson faced off with conservative radio talk show host Kim Monson on her program to set the record straight on ballot issues 5A and 5B, a $60 million fixed mill levy override and a $450 million bond.
Monson submitted the only arguments against both initiatives in the Douglas County General Election Tabor book, which superintendent Erin Kane and all seven school board directors have claimed are false and misleading.
Peterson said on Monson's show, "I don't have a problem with disagreements. This is an ask of the taxpayers. But I think some things are factually inaccurate. To me, frankly Kim, from a military standpoint, it (her comments against the district) looked like a ready-fire-aim command."
Will 5A and 5B result in over-the-top property tax increases?
While 5B would result in a no-net-tax increase, 5A would cost property owners about $1 per week per $100,000 in home valuation.
Monson argues that DougCo property values are expected to increase by 40-50% in 2024, and any additional tax burden could potentially price taxpayers out of their homes.
The problem, Peterson argues, is that Monson's concern has nothing to do with 5A and 5B. "Those property taxes would increase regardless if 5A and 5B weren't on the ballot. We're doing what we're supposed to do – asking our taxpayers for local support."
"You're implying that taxes will go up and up, and the district will get more money. But, the only way that local taxpayers can increase the district's revenue is by passing a mill levy override."
Peterson argues that even if there's a 50% increase in property value and property taxes increase (which a 50% property value increase does not equal a 50% higher tax bill), the school finance act dictates the amount districts receive across the state remains relatively equal.
"For instance, DougCo pays 39% of the total per-pupil amount in local taxes, and the only district that pays less in the metro area is Cherry Creek, which pays about 30%.”
5A has no sunset
Monson opposes the fact that there's no sunset on 5A, meaning the district will receive $60 million annually as part of a mill levy override.
This is true. However, Peterson argues, “whether property taxes go up or down, what a property owner owes as their share of the MLO is the same every year, as long as the amount of taxpayers remains even.
“If more people move to DougCo, the taxpayer's obligation will decrease, and if, for some reason, taxpayers leave the county, then their obligation will increase”
According to the Douglas County assessor, higher property taxes will also defray the individual MLO tax obligation.
Is the district losing teachers due to lower salaries?
Peterson said the district is losing teachers to three factors: retirement, job change, and poaching from other districts who can pay them more.
Monson argues, "Cherry Creek may have the highest average teacher pay located geographically close to DCSD. But that does not make Cherry Creek the leader that sets teacher salaries for the market.
"The market price is set by a composite of all the similar school districts in the area plus intangibles such as appreciation from senior leaders and supervisors, respect, organizational culture, work environment, relationships with peers and colleagues, safety, opportunity to lead and grow professionally, and work/life balance."
Cherry Creek may pay more, but, she argues, their teacher turnover rate is only .6% lower than DougCo. In her opinion, this data means that higher pay doesn't equal higher teacher retention.
Peterson counters that her data is only for teachers and that all DCSD stands to benefit from a pay raise.
How much money does DougCo need?
Monson argues that a 10% increase in teacher salaries amounts to $25.5 million, not the $60 million the district wants.
The district has responded that Monson's calculation doesn't consider benefits paid through its PERA pension, so her claim is inaccurate.
Monson told Peterson, "PERA is this golden retirement plan. Young teachers have to pay for the retirement of many of these teachers. Twenty-one percent of payroll goes to shore up PERA, and the employee pays another 11%.
"This seems to me like instead of asking taxpayers to shore up PERA, that is something that needs to be fixed."
Peterson said, "absolutely, PERA should be fixed, but that's not on 5A and 5B. When you did the math, you implied that only teachers would get a raise. As stated in the language, this benefits teachers and all of our staff."
Peterson also took issue with Monson's statement that 5A is a "general fund money grab," asking her if she watched the 35-minute board meeting discussion where they made the language on 5A so specific that it can't go toward anything other than compensation.
Is DougCo overestimating growth?
Monson argues that JeffCo and Denver have to close schools due to declining enrollment and that DougCo is also seeing areas of stagnation and lower student head counts.
"If you look at capital expenditures and the school district has typically not been correct on growth projections, I'm concerned about doubling our debt load with 5B," said Monson.
Peterson responded that some areas in the county are declining, and some areas are seeing explosive growth, like Sterling Ranch, The Canyons, and Crystal Valley.
"For example, Roxborough Primary and Intermediate and Coyote Creek will be over 100% capacity in 2025 if we don't build a school in Sterling Ranch. We need to accommodate those areas and meet their expectations for a neighborhood public school.
“JeffCo and Denver are way upside down on the number of capital properties they own, Peterson continued. “JeffCo has the capacity for (he believes) 96,000 students and only has 68,000 enrolled.
"As we build new schools, we would do a general one-in-one-out, controlled. and intentional effort to repurpose schools in areas of declining enrollment while we're servicing the communities that have increased enrollment, and that's what 5B does."
Bottom line, Monson says she believes taxpayers in Douglas County are taxed too much, and now is not the time to ask for an increase.
Monson and Peterson ran out of time before they could discuss where 5B capital expenditures will go or Monson's comments that parents are concerned about woke indoctrination in DougCo's curriculum. They plan to continue the discussion in the near future.