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Tuesday August 3rd 2021

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3A: Does it make sense?


By

Editor’s note: Please be aware that this article was posted in 2010 for the election that year.

Are you wondering about how to vote on the 2010 3A BVSD mill levy increase ballot initiative? If you have not already voted, maybe you should think about the issues that are raised below before you do.

Why are we here?

First and foremost, let’s understand the motivation for the proposal. It is very simple and, in fact, quite plain: the State of Colorado has, due to its own budget concerns and various constitutional restrictions, continued to reduce the flow of money to public education at all levels. It is no secret that Colorado ranks near the bottom of the barrel of states in terms of public education funding. It is truly shameful. Few, if any, would disagree on that.

What does the measure ask for?

Next, let’s understand the ballot language, so we can see what we are buying. (For the complete ballot language, see the text at the end of this article.) Probably the most disturbing aspect of the language is the phrase that unfortunately has been quite typical of past BVSD ballot initiatives, and a sore point for many voters over the years. It is the phrase describing how the funds will be used: “ … TO BE USED FOR GENERAL FUND PURPOSES, WHICH MAY INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO …” Given the dozen years or more of BVSD spending following the past several ballot issues, that language can make one shiver mightily.

Although the current 3A proposal lists several laudable target applications for the funds, such as mitigating state funding cuts, supporting teacher compensation, and improving early childhood education, there is absolutely no guarantee in the ballot language that ANY of the new funds will go to ANY of those targets. And if past experience in any way indicates future performance, there is every reason to believe the money won’t go where the voters have been led to believe it will.

Another concern is that the measure asks for an expected $22 million annually, in perpetuity, to be added to the existing revenue stream flowing into the Boulder Valley School District. That is no small amount of money to be collected forever. In addition, this measure asks for the most money BVSD voters can approve, per state law, in the foreseeable future, unless the legislature or a state constitutional amendment changes the rules. In other words, there go all voter options for the future, either plus or minus.

What about public scrutiny and accountability?

It is quite common for fiscal ballot issues to have provisions for public oversight, a sunset clause to permit voters to revisit the need for continued revenue, and a requirement for public reporting for accountability as to where funds actually get spent. None of these provisions exists in this ballot proposal. That is actually not very surprising though. In a conversation with this author in 2006 about providing similar oversight in the BVSD capital improvements bond initiative, a high ranking BVSD official (one who is even higher ranking today), explained quite candidly why such controls do not appear in BVSD ballot issues: “We want the flexibility.” Those are not particularly soothing words to the taxpayer, nor even to educators; that is, to the teachers on the ground, so to speak. That is because quite often, in fact, typically in BVSD, funds intended by the voters for the classroom have ended up increasing the BVSD administrative empire instead. And characteristically, BVSD has kept the public in the dark about this. More on that issue follows. The bottom line: BVSD typically asks for your money predicated on a heartstring tug and then does what it pleases with it. It is a “Father Knows Best” approach to public accountability.

What if the economy improves?

The main motivation for this ballot initiative is the reduced funding of public education from the State of Colorado. Although there is no indication at this time that a reversal of this situation is in the wind, it could happen. In fact, if Colorado is to remain viable as a place to continue to attract business, it has to happen sometime.

While no one should be holding one’s breath, if and when Colorado’s economy does turn around, and if Colorado steps up to responsibly funding public education across the state, then theoretically, at least, the need for funds requested in this ballot initiative would be lessened or eliminated. One would think, therefore, that the language of the initiative might somehow be tied to the need for the funds. Think again. Even if the economy improves to the level of the “dot com” boom of the 1990s, the funds provided by this initiative will keep rolling in to BVSD; which is to say, rolling out from taxpayer pockets.

Where the money usually goes

Speaking of what typically has happened to public funds poured into BVSD over the years, one needs only to look at the rather scholarly work performed by the folks at BVSDBudget.org to become depressed, if not angry, at the way BVSD administrators have routinely siphoned money that should have gone into classrooms – more teachers and smaller class sizes – and instead built a rather top-heavy empire of administrators at a rate considerably greater than the enrollment growth in the district. As one measure, in the past decade, the BVSD student population has grown about 3%, while staffing in the schools (teachers and local support staff) has grown much less than 1%. At the same time, however, the BVSD administration head count has grown by about 18%. That seems highly disproportionate.

One need only look at similar ballot issues dating back to 1998, 2002, and 2005, to see how things did not turn out as the public was led to believe during the campaigns. Whether the issue was for reduced class size, teacher compensation, or technology, what we saw is not what was promised. And because this year’s ballot language with its leading phrase of “…TO BE USED FOR GENERAL FUND PURPOSES, WHICH MAY INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO …” does not bode well for a sea change of any kind.

My bottom line: Just Say NO

I have been a continuous volunteer in BVSD schools for nearly 20 years. I have actively campaigned for BVSD ballot issues in the past; although, that ended after BVSD’s “bait and switch” tactics over computers following approval of the 2005 technology initiative. I have great respect for the teachers in BVSD. I do not envy the position they are in with this ballot issue. It is tantamount to bribery on the part of BVSD. The teachers are being told that if they want to get paid properly, they must support this initiative. Yet many teachers, when asked (privately, of course), have little or no faith that they will see the BVSD promises realized. They have the same lack of faith that the money will end up in the classroom. They have a lot more confidence that BVSD business as usual will continue.

One blogger has commented on the 3A initiative, with some good analysis as well, recommending that voters “lean toward yes.” I cannot. I don’t even lean toward “no.” I fall over flat on “no.” It is a bit like “tough love” parenting. Sometimes one has to say “no,” even though it may hurt a bit, to reset negative behavior. In my view, that is what is needed in this case. We need to take a hard look at what has been going on in BVSD for a long time and do a reset. It will not be easy. There is going to have to be give and take on everyone’s part: administrators, teachers, and taxpayers.

In the long run, even if driven only by inflation, the BVSD budget will undoubtedly grow. But before we throw a huge chunk of new money at the problem, it is time to get serious about reform in BVSD. It is time to get specific about where money will be spent. It’s time to improve public oversight of BVSD operations. It is time to put the real emphasis on the classroom, rather than administration. For right now, though, on this ballot initiative, it is simply time to say, “NO.”

BOULDER VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-2 BALLOT ISSUE 3A

SHALL BOULDER VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE 2 TAXES BE INCREASED BY $22,500,000 DOLLARS IN 2010 FOR COLLECTION IN THE 2011 CALENDAR YEAR, AND BY SUCH AMOUNTS AS MAY BE COLLECTED ANNUALLY THEREAFTER BY THE IMPOSITION OF A MILL LEVY WHICH GENERATES REVENUE, WHICH TOGETHER WITH THE REVENUES PRODUCED BY PREVIOUS VOTER AUTHORIZED TAX INCREASES OF THE DISTRICT UNDER 22-54-108, C.R.S., AS AMENDED, IS NOT GREATER THAN TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT OF THE DISTRICT’S TOTAL PROGRAM FUNDING PLUS SUPPLEMENTAL COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT, TO BE USED FOR GENERAL FUND PURPOSES, WHICH MAY INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO:

· RESTORING CRITICAL BUDGET CUTS;

· MITIGATING FUTURE BUDGET CUTS;

· SUPPLEMENTING TEACHER AND STAFF COMPENSATION;

· FUNDING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PROGRAMS;

AND SHALL SUCH INCREASE BE AN ADDITIONAL PROPERTY TAX MILL LEVY IN EXCESS OF THE LEVIES THE DISTRICT IS OTHERWISE AUTHORIZED BY LAW TO IMPOSE; AND SHALL THE DISTRICT BE AUTHORIZED TO COLLECT, RETAIN AND SPEND ALL REVENUES FROM SUCH TAXES AND THE EARNINGS FROM THE INVESTMENT OF SUCH REVENUES AS A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE AND AN EXCEPTION TO THE LIMITS WHICH WOULD OTHERWISE APPLY UNDER ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION?

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2 Responses to “3A: Does it make sense?”

  1. Seth Brigham says:

    “We need to take a hard look at what has been going on in BVSD for a long time.”

    True, but, funds are short, less money from the State and the one’s who will pay the price, teachers and the children they teach.

    • Fred Gluck says:

      I absolutely agree that less money usually means less for teachers and classrooms. At least that’s been the history of the way BVSD has treated such reductions. However, there are other alternatives, such as reducing central administrative expenditures, which one can view as a “tax” on money that could be applied to classrooms, for example. Certainly some central services are necessary and appropriate. However, as indicated in the original opinion, it’s difficult to justify double-digit percentage increases in administrative expenditures for very low single-digit increases in student enrollment.

      Furthermore, as is also indicated in the original opinion, the history of BVSD (see bvsdbudget.org website) has typically been to withhold budgeted money from classrooms and teachers and subsequently apply it to central administration. Thus, there is no guarantee to the taxpayers that simply throwing money to BVSD via this ballot measure will get to the classrooms. If BVSD were to have specified concretely and absolutely in the ballot measure that the money raised from this measure would go to teachers and classrooms, it would be a different story. But, as with all past BVSD ballot measures, they “want the flexibility” to do with the money what they choose — and that means without public input or approval. Therein lies at least one rub.

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