Cherry Creek School District officials say they’ve cut all they can without seriously affecting schools, and they want voters to raise taxes to help ease the pain.
The district board is asking voters to approve a $125 million bond issue and a $25 million mill levy increase, questions that would fund capital projects, curriculum and classroom tools across the district.
Cherry Creek officials say the impact of four years worth of steady budget cuts from the state have taken its toll on schools. Flagging state resources and steady increases in enrollment (the district has grown by about 3,000 students since 2008) prompted the district to pose both questions at a critical time for the third largest district in the state.
Ballot questions 3A and 3B will address different types of needs in the Cherry Creek district. Together, the two issues would raise property taxes about $8 a month on a home worth approximately $300,000. Issue 3A would ask for $25 million in the form of a mill levy increase and issue 3B would seek about $125 million in bond funds for capital construction costs, both paid from increased property taxes.
“It’s two questions on the ballot because that’s what TABOR requires, (but) we need both,” said district spokeswoman Tustin Amole earlier this year. “If we pass the budget issue, then, yes, we’ll have the money, but we don’t have the things to operate without the mill levy increase.”
The $125 million bond issue would address a wide range of capital construction projects in the district, improvements that range from updated security systems to addressing capacity issues at Aurora high schools. For example, the bond money would add a new $6 million wing to Grandview High School and an addition to Cherokee Trail High School that would cost $7 million.
The ballot issue comes as Cherry Creek looks to the demands of a steadily growing student population in the next five years. Less than 15 years after the district’s newest schools opened to deal with a booming population in the southeast section of Aurora, the district is facing a continuing crisis of growth and resources. Depending on a variety of formulas, officials anticipate growth of anywhere from about 16,000 to nearly 17,900 students in the district’s high-school population by 2017. At Cherokee Trail, district officials estimate that the student population could rise to as much as 4,110 by 2017. At Grandview, the student population could hit 2,826 by 2017. That effects of that kind of growth in the coming years can already be seen on both campuses – the district has added mobile classrooms to the high schools for the 2012-13 school year.
“Right now, Grandview has three mobile (units). That’s six classrooms. Cherokee Trail (had) their first two mobiles this summer. They’ll have four classrooms,” said Scott Siegfried, assistant superintendent for the district. “Even if we pass a successful bond, I’ve got to believe we’re going to have 10 mobiles with 20 classrooms before we get to the point where we can build a wing … We’re going to have to take some immediate steps even before we can get additional construction.”
That bond issue would also fund maintenance projects and technology improvements across the district. That includes funding for new computers, security improvements and basic upkeep projects at elementary, middle and high schools across Cherry Creek.
Cherry Creek’s $25 million mill levy override would fund curriculum, teachers and classroom tools.
The mill levy increase will be 3A on the ballot, and the bond question will be 3B.
Cherry Creek board members have said they’re aware of the tough economic environment as they pushed for the issues.
“We always have concerns. Any time that you go to voters for a tax initiative, we’re always sensitive to that,” said Cherry Creek Board President Jennifer Churchfield. “(But) we felt as a board that we needed the opportunity to go to voters … We felt that we couldn’t go one more year.”