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Built in 1962, Douglas County High School needs more than $17 million worth of capital repairs, according to Principal Tony Kappas.
The original plumping needs maintenance, pipes are rusting — some burst over Christmas break — the carpet is 30 years old, there are heating issues, the frames of windows are wearing. This affects the students, as well as staff, said Kappas.
“The faculty is dissatisfied. If things don't get better, they will have to start looking somewhere else,” he said. “That breaks my heart because again it affects the students. The quality of education dips when you lose great teachers.”
The high school in Castle Rock isn't alone — many of the Douglas County School District's buildings are in need of repairs. But the district lacks funding. To address the issue, the board of education will explore a possible tax measure aimed at generating more money to address critical needs across the district, including teacher retention, school programming and building repairs. The board is expected to make a final decision in the spring on whether to put a tax measure on the November ballot.
“We are out of options, quite honestly,” said David Ray, school board president. “I think if we don't pass (a tax measure), we are looking at significant cuts that will truly, unfortunately impact our classrooms.”
Ray pointed out that although Douglas County is one of the wealthiest counties in Colorado, with high home values, property taxes go to the state, which then redistributes the money evenly across all school districts.
“That is why school districts go to these local voters,” Ray said. “A (mill levy override) stays here in the community.”
The last time Douglas County passed a local bond or mill levy override — often referred to as an MLO — was in 2006. Residents voted down a bond and mill levy override in 2008 and 2011.
Other area districts, including Littleton, Jefferson County and Cherry Creek, have seen measures pass in more recent years. The increase in funding helps those districts pay teachers more than Douglas County: Jeffco's average teacher pay for the 2016-17 school year was $55,435, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Cherry Creek's was $69,110. Littleton's was $64,917. Douglas County's was $52,044.
Ray calls the teacher compensation issue “horrendous.”
“Teachers are able to go across County Line and be paid $10,000 or $15,000 more” a year, he said. “There is a gap in teacher pay. A lot of teachers are hanging in there because they value Douglas County.”
Another issue facing the district is capital needs. According to its master capital plan, the district needs between $205 million and $269 million in repairs.
“Truly all of our schools are in need of repair,” interim Superintendent Erin Kane said. “To what degree varies by school.”
Measures defeated in past
The community voted down a $200 million bond in 2011 that would have gone toward building three new schools in Castle Rock and Parker and a $29 million mill levy override that would have provided funding for instructional expenses and pay for performance for teachers.
In 2008, Douglas County rejected a $395 million bond and a $17 million mill levy override to support building new schools, improving student achievement, recruiting and retaining the workforce and improving the district's technological advances in the face of expanded enrollment.
Jason Virdin of Douglas County Parents — a group formed in 2013 to inform the community on issues facing the school district — thinks a bond and MLO have the potential to pass either this year or next, as long as the community is informed of the district's current financial situation. He points to the recession as a reason for the failure of the past two tax measures.
“A tax increase around a recession when families are struggling financially is never very favorable,” Virdin said. “In Douglas County, we have a financial crisis. State funding for education is inadequate and has been for quite a while. School districts have become dependent on bond and MLO. Unfortunately, DCSD hasn't passed one since 2006.”
The District Accountability, Fiscal Oversight and Long Range Planning committees are researching options for a bond and mill levy override. At the Feb. 6 board meeting, a joint subcommittee, made up of people from each committee and community members, will present the findings to the school board, according to Ray.
At the Feb. 20 board meeting, the Fiscal Oversight Committee will recommend three or four MLO options, which will include an amount, what the amount would go toward and the impact on taxpayers. The Long Range Planning will present on building needs and underutilized schools, which a bond would address.
A polling firm will then get feedback from stakeholders through focus groups, phone calls and surveys. Ray expects the board to make a final decision on whether or not to put a bond and MLO on the 2018 ballot by April or May.
Within the next month or two, Ray foresees a campaign committee formed by a parent volunteer group starting to raise money and educate the community on the issue.
The school district is asking for help, Ray said.
“We aren't just saying please give us a handout, we are saying we are in dire need,” he said. “Otherwise, we have no choice than to impact the quality of learning for kids, and that's absolutely not what we want to do.”
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