Dear Jeffco Families & Community,
As expected, this November’s election was a relatively low-turnout affair, with no major state or national political offices being determined at the polls.
There were three issues that will impact Jeffco Public Schools on the ballot this year. School board races (there were two contested seats open on Jeffco’s five member school board), Jefferson County’s ballot question 1A, and state proposition CC.
On the school board races, Stephanie Schooley prevailed in District 3 (representing Wheat Ridge and parts of Arvada). In District 4 (representing much of Lakewood) Susan Miller prevailed.
In the course of this election, much was made about candidates supported by the
teacher’s union versus those who brought an “independent” view
to our schools. In my professional opinion, this dichotomy dramatically over-simplified the positions and perspectives of all the candidates. Relying on the overly simplistic frame, one candidate from each perspective won this past election.
We are a diverse community in terms of values, ideologies, partisanship, and even geography. The challenge before our new board members (as well as the three members already seated) is how they transition from the work of political campaigning to that of governing and representing the interests of the district as a whole, and the great work going on its schools, to the broader community.
During the campaign, I presented on three big challenges that the school board will have to confront in the years ahead.
The first challenge is around the district’s instructional philosophy and how that relates to standardized test scores. For the past two years, we have moved our instructional approach to emphasize authentic student experiences that prepare them for life and work. This work is guided by a focus on what we call “
” - content mastery, self-direction and responsibility, collaboration, critical and creative thinking, agility and adaptability, civic and global engagement, and communication. Such a pursuit overlaps with, but is also distinctly different than, a focus on raising test scores. This past year, our growth and achievement scores are lower than they have been in the past. While significant work is already underway in our schools to reverse this trend, our board going forward will need to wrestle with the choice between following through on building an educational experience emphasizing real-life experiences or an approach focused on standardized test scores.
A second area where the board will need to make decisions is around the size and number of our schools. Jeffco is the second largest district in the state, but we have seen declining enrollment for the past several years. Now, we have many small schools, some enrolling fewer than 200 students. Jeffco has a tradition of supporting small neighborhood schools, but there is a real financial cost associated with keeping those schools open and subsidizing them so they can offer an equitable learning experience to what students in larger schools have. Questions around school closures and consolidations are never easy. They go far beyond building conditions and enrollment trends as schools are often the social and emotional hearts of their communities. It will not be easy, but this is an issue on which our board, as the representatives of our community, will need to engage.
Finally, the board (and this community) will need to determine if it will operate as the representatives of two factions competing for control, or if it is possible for people with different viewpoints and perspectives to work together for the commonly shared goal of a great public school system for our community. Over the past several years, Jeffco has been a national example of divisive partisan politics in local education. Time will tell if we have turned that page.
I wish to personally express my appreciation for all four candidates who ran for the school board seats this year. School board positions are unpaid volunteer roles and we are grateful that four quality people (Stephanie Schooley, Robert Applegate, Susan Miller, and Joan Chavez-Lee) put in such tremendous time and energy vying for these important positions.
At the county level, Jefferson County’s ballot question 1A asked voters to approve a “de-Brucing” measure that would have allowed the county to keep (and not refund) $16.1 million in revenues collected over the formulaic cap set in TABOR.
Based on the election results, the voters have spoken and have told the county to refund them the $16.1 million and make whatever budget cuts are necessary. Jeffco Public Schools relies on numerous county services including in the areas of school safety, public and mental health, and a sizable portion of our county’s road system. We will begin planning on some trimming of these services as the county makes the necessary budget cuts.
At the state level, Proposition CC was a request to undo one portion of the TABOR Amendment and to allow the state to “de-Bruce” and not refund revenues collected over the TABOR revenue formula cap beginning with monies collected in the 2019-20 fiscal year. The funds retained by the state would have been used for education (PreK-12 and higher education), transportation (roads and bridges), and transit services.
The voters have also spoken on this matter and directed the state to refund any dollars collected over the TABOR revenue cap. As such, Jeffco Public Schools will begin making budget forecasts for next year and into the future without these incremental funds.
I wish to thank all the candidates and individuals who participated in this election - from being on the ballot, to knocking on doors, or even talking about these important questions with your friends and neighbors. Our representative democracy relies on engaged, informed, and participant citizens to survive. Thanks to all those who honored their civic responsibility by taking part.