Issue committee joins effort to pass Douglas County school funding questions

Volunteers, board members get moblized

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Douglas County School District is ramping up outreach and communication efforts on its bond and mill levy override funding questions going before voters in November. 

With plans for the school board to approve specific ballot language on Aug. 23, board members and community volunteers are stepping up communication on the district’s funding needs.

A group of parents formed an issue committee called Invest in DCSD to help pass the $450 million bond and $60 million mill levy override, which would go to building maintenance and construction, as well as staff salaries. Invest in DCSD is hosting a kickoff fundraising event from 3-5 p.m. Aug. 28 at Heritage Park in Highlands Ranch with school board members Mike Peterson, Susan Meek, Becky Myers and Christy Williams. 

Christa Gilstrap, one of the founders of the Invest in DCSD committee, said education and outreach efforts have already started, but the event will be a formal introduction to the community.

Gilstrap and four other members of DCSD’s Mill Bond Exploratory Committee, which looked into funding needs and the feasibility of ballot questions, created Invest in DCSD in June when the school board was indicating it would support putting bond and mill levy override questions on the November ballot. 

So far, voters Gilstrap has spoken with are mostly amenable to the proposed funding questions, which is estimated to cost $1 per week for each $100,000 of assessed property values or about $255 annually for a house valued at $500,000. 

“The funding message is very compelling,” she said. “Once you get that information in front of people, even your strongest anti-tax conservative can see that it makes sense. The needs are so undeniable.” 

Gilstrap’s biggest concern is time with fewer than 90 days until the election.

With that in mind, Invest in DCSD is recruiting as many people as possible, including school board members, to help spread the message to support the proposed funding. 

“Whether you have five minutes or $5, I can use you,” Gilstrap said of volunteers.

Invest in DCSD builds off the work started by Superintendent Erin Kane and the school board, which have been hosting town halls and presentations at various locations throughout the summer. 

Polling from the MBEC shows the school district has an uphill battle to get the ballot questions passed, with 39% of voters polled saying they would approve the funding.

Kane, Gilstrap and others have said misconceptions around how school funding works, with many voters mistakenly believing that increased property values equates to greater school funding, is another huge challenge to overcome.

Additionally, roughly 70% of voters don’t have children enrolled in DCSD schools. In a phone interview, board president Mike Peterson said he’s hoping to make the argument that the bond and mill levy override are an incredible value, not just for the schools and taxpayers, but also the overall community.

“The future of Douglas Couny is sitting in our schools right now and by funding the schools and funding the staff who help them prepare for what’s next, we’re ultimately funding the county,” he said. 

Gilstrap said she also tries to help people envision what a better funded school district would look like to gain their support. 

“We’ve been underfunded for a long time and the district is still providing a top-level education,” she said. “We’re doing a good job on very little, so what could we do if we were properly funded?”

In an effort to address some voter concerns about trust, the school board plans to approve a salary schedule and bond plan that will detail spending on specific projects and investments. Another document will lay out the process for making potential spending changes.

Along with these board actions, spending is limited by the ballot language of funding questions, as well as state laws on how school districts can use taxpayer money. 

“If we can continue to model respect as a board, have conversations that are really focused on education and our mission and we provide nice, tight bond and mill language and hold true to that should the community pass it, those are great ways I think we can continue to build trust,” Peterson said. 

For her part, Gilstrap emphasizes the funding is not about politics, but addressing the underfunding from past years. Like the school board, Gilstrap has seen the community unify on the need for funding and is hoping that will result in success.

“No matter how people feel on some of the other issues, this is largely something most people agree on,” she said. 

For more information about Invest in DCSD, go to investindcsd.com.

douglas county school district, bond, mill levy override, invest in dcsd, dcsd, school funding, mike peterson, erin kane,

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