Just one month after saying the district needed more schools and giving the OK on $48 million in certificates of participation to build one new school and finish construction on another, the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education appears to be headed down a new path of spending.
The board heard a presentation on Thursday that said there are too many inefficient schools in the district. District officials unveiled a radical plan that includes closing some schools, consolidating some schools, reconfiguring some schools and replacing some schools at a cost of $800 million.
Chief Operating Office Steve Bell led the presentation, which included consolidating the following schools: Allendale and Campbell, K-Lakes and Patterson, Parr and Little, Prospect Valley and Kullerstrand, and Vivian and Stober. It also included replacing Green Gables, Marshdale, and Jefferson High School while reconfiguring Pomona and closing Glennon Heights and Pleasant View.
Former board members were shaking their heads after Thursday’s meeting.
“First, they made a recent decision to shackle the school district with another $78M in financing repayment obligations, without public approval, because school construction is a critical need,” said former President Ken Witt, who was recalled along with John Newkirk and Julie Williams in November. “Then, six weeks later, they turn around and propose to close 10 schools as part of an $800M construction, repair, and reconfiguration package.”
The $78 million Witt was referring to was the final cost to the Candelas and Sierra package. That project has already changed directions. The original cost when voted on in January was $40 million. However, in March, Bell came back to the board and requested a change to $48 million, citing change in construction prices. Yet, the actual cost to the district in the lease/purchase agreement is $78 million after interest.
Newkirk was also frustrated with the news.
“The astonishing inefficiency and waste we’re now seeing in Jeffco under the supposed “clean slate” board is starting to look like a replay of the Aurora VA hospital calamity,” Newkirk said.
The $800 million, 13-year plan also includes:
- Additions to 20 elementary and middle school facilities at a cost of $108,300,000 in construction costs and a $760,000 annual increase in maintenance and operations expenses.
- Seven new auxiliary gyms and 10 artificial turf fields at 11 high schools at a cost of $34 million.
- New stadium complex and a renovation and expansion to Stadia facilities at a cost of $30 million.
- Complete the second phase of two high schools, start the first phase of one high school, replace one high school, build two new high schools, expand career and technology options at a cost of $195 million.
Witt said the current board has allowed Bell to convince them to spend out of control.
“When they come to the voters asking for a tax increase, will they mention the financial disaster their decisions represent?” Witt said. “My bet is, they’ll say they need to raise taxes to pay our teachers competitively and to put money in the classroom for textbooks. Perhaps the financial management education suggested for all Jeffco high school students should first be offered to the new Jeffco school board.”
The district will host a series of 12 community meetings to gather input before the board votes on the plan, which is scheduled to begin in 2017. The first three are:
- 9-11 a.m., April 23 at Dakota Ridge High School, 13399 W Coal Mine Ave, Littleton.
- 6-8 p.m., April 27 at North Arvada Middle School, 7285 Pierce St, Arvada.
- 8-10 a.m., May 4 at Conifer High School, 10441 Highway 73, Conifer.
Witt said the board would be better off putting that money into people instead of bricks and mortar.
“It seems to me a better use of funds would be to increase compensation of our great teachers, rather than playing a very expensive shell game of closing some schools and potentially increasing class sizes in our higher at-risk communities, while building new facilities in our new, affluent neighborhoods,” Witt said. “While this new board has yet to make student achievement a priority, we should all be concerned when they are proposing to hand our students yet another challenge to their academic success.”