Fiedler details plans for proposed bond, mill levy funds in call

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By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — Parents and community members in School District 27J heard from Superintendent Chris Fielder during a July 22 telephone town hall on the potential $150-million bond measure and $7.5-million mill levy override, which is likely to appear on the ballot in November. 

About 3,000 people from around the district participated in the call and asked a variety of questions about the quality of education students were receiving, whether the district is eligible for additional funding, and what bond and mill levy funding would do for the district.

Fiedler said part of the bond would allow for the construction of a new high school, two new elementary schools, the completion of Brantner Elementary School and major renovations at Brighton High School, Brighton Heritage Academy, Overland Trail Middle School and Vikan Middle School.

“In addition to the new schools and major renovations planned, every school in the district will receive improvements as a result of this bond,” he said. 

Fiedler said charter schools will also benefit from bond funding. Eagle Ridge Academy was the only charter school that submitted a request — to build two new classrooms — regarding capital needs related to the district’s planning.

According to Fiedler, it’s been 14 years since the district passed its one and only mill levy override.

“At the time, we were a much smaller school district… We were about 5,000 students, we are about triple that number mow,” he said. “For the time, that mill levy provided an additional $133 per student, and now it provides just $46 per student due to the increase in enrollment we’ve seen over time.”

Fiedler explained the district’s $46 in per pupil funding from its mill levy override pales in comparison to neighboring districts such as Adams 12, which receives about $600 in per pupil funding above state funding, or Boulder Valley, which receives $1,800 in per pupil funding above state funding.

He said the district is looking to provide students with the instruction and the skills they need to be successful and that a $7.5-million mill levy override would be used to hire additional teachers, support staff, additional safety staff, technology and bring instructional materials up to date.

One community member brought up the funding school districts were supposed to see from the state’s marijuana tax and wanted to know how much 27J will get from that funding. Fiedler said the funds from the tax were originally projected to be around $40 million statewide but that now it’s coming in a little lower. Since the district receives 2 percent of the K-12 budget at the state level, it would have received $800,000, which “does not amount to a great deal.”

He said receiving funding from the marijuana tax has been complicated further because the money will be going into the Colorado Department of Education’s Building Exceptional Schools Today, which is a competitive grant project. According to Fiedler, BEST grants typically go to district’s with the oldest schools.

Natalia Ledezma-Rollins, a 27J parent who also participates in the parent group Engage 27J and the Quality Schools Initiative, spoke during the call about her decision to get more involved.

“I didn’t feel they were getting the type of education they were getting previously — not that it wasn’t good — it just seemed a little less specific to them,” she said. “Now I’m learning that when my daughters enter high school, we’re going to be overcrowded exponentially to 1,200 unseated students, and that concerns me at a great level because I’ll have another set of high school students being in overcrowded classrooms.”

She said as part of the QSI committee she learned about the state of the school district and the part that had the biggest impact on her was learning that since 2010, the district has lost $66 million in funding from the state.

Human Resources Director Ruth DeCrescentis said the negative factor for this year is anticipated to be another $17.7 million, which would bring the total amount of state funding the district has lost because of the negative factor over the last six years to about $83.5 million.

When the state wasn’t able to fully fund the state finance act, district officials responded by making cuts. Fiedler said the district let 85 teachers go and eliminated 45 classified positions in 2011 and that it would cost the district about $10 million for the district to go back to that level of staffing.

Decreased funding from the state has meant different challenges in different classrooms, and Fiedler said the district has lost some valuable programs that he knows can make a difference. 

During the call, community members asked about funding for music and art programs, the possibility of an International Baccalaureate program being offered at the high school levels and about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics funding.

Fiedler said when district officials made tough decisions because of finances, funding for arts and music went away.

“Honestly, it’s difficult for us to offer to our students anything outside of a traditional core experience in terms of our core offerings,” he said in a response to a question about STEM programming. 

District spokesman Kevin Denke said call volumes and participation fluctuated throughout the hour but peaked around 3,000 participants. Denke said the district would have like to have had more questions but that they’re hoping to hold more telephone town halls in the future and are hopeful that as the public becomes more familiar with the process, they’ll be more involved in it.

“When you start talking about bringing 3,000 people together for a call, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to get that for an actual town hall meeting where you invite people somewhere, so I think to have that many people on a call was really invaluable,” he said.