Colorado Community Media: It’s time to do our part for our Jeffco schools

We Are Jeffco is very excited to share this endorsement from Colorado Community Media. Thank you for your endorsement!

In August, just before the start of school, leaks in the roof at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood saturated the gym floor to the point that gymnastics and volleyball events had to be canceled.

Because most buildings in Jefferson County Public Schools were built about 50 years ago, they do not meet the security requirements necessary for keeping students safe today.

Higher salaries in nearby districts are continually drawing away quality teachers, making Jeffco more of a training ground than a place to live out a career.

Jeffco Public Schools, many parents and educators say, is at a crisis point: It needs money to repair and renovate aging buildings so that all students enjoy an optimum learning environment. To graduate young people with not only college-ready skills, but also the vocational and technical abilities that businesses are demanding. And to recruit and — most importantly — retain the quality teachers needed to maintain and grow the district’s excellence in education.

We agree.

Toward that end, Colorado Community Media urges Jefferson County voters to support Ballot Question 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, and Ballot Question 5B, a $567 million bond.

The override will help raise teacher salaries and provide more mental health and counseling positions, among other improvements. The bond — which also provides money for charter schools — will pay for renovations and repairs, build new facilities to meet population growth, upgrade security measures, and expand career and technical and early childhood education.

If both measures pass, the owner of a home valued at $500,000 would pay $234.60 a year more in property taxes. That’s $19.55 a month — or about four to five coffees from Starbucks.

There’s no question the district’s buildings, an average age of 50 years old,  are beginning show their age: Leaky roofs, broken pipes, outdated technology are commonplace. Repairs — and their cost — will only increase with time.

To bring all buildings to standards of new construction would cost $1.3 billion, according to district data.

But “we’re not asking for that,” Superintendent Jason Glass said. “We want to create equity in older buildings … increase the quality of pre-1980 high schools.”

Research has shown that older buildings tend to negatively affect enrollment and quality of work, Glass said. The learning environment also has changed, requiring flexible spaces and setups that allow students to work collectively and hands-on.

And there’s no doubt Jeffco teachers lag behind their counterparts in salaries. Statewide data shows four of the six neighboring districts pay their teachers more, reducing the district’s ability to keep its best teachers.

“Right now, it appears that we are a training ground for our educators who can go to any other district around us and make $5,000 to $15,000 more per year,” board member Ali Lasell has said.

We applaud the district’s commitment to transparency: A citizens financial oversight committee and independent audit of expenditures will make sure money from the measures is spent as intended.

We also commend the district for listening to criticism from its failed bond attempt in 2016, which cited a lack of clarity in how the money would be used. This time, the district has prepared a detailed booklet and website of exactly where the money will go at each school.

As the state’s second-largest school district — with 86,000 students from across 770 square miles on 168 campuses — Jeffco schools must work to respond to a diverse mix of urban, suburban and mountain communities.

“What we’ve tried to do here is create something that benefits everybody,” Glass said. “We have an obligation to pay it forward for future generations.”

It’s time to do our part.