Cherry Creek School District may ask voters for tax hike for mental health, school construction

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AURORA | Voters in the Cherry Creek School District could soon find themselves considering a tax increase and $150 million bond election to shore up coveted funding for schools. 

The district’s Board of Education released some details about two potential measures Aug. 3 that could land on residents’ ballots in November: a property tax increase worth $35 million and a $150 million bond measure toward school maintenance, a mental health treatment facility and possibly a new school building. 

Superintendent Scott Siegfried said in a letter Aug. 6 that the dollars would be crucial “to stave off some of the worst impacts” of a current budget deficit brought on largely by state government cuts to education funding amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic and recession. 

Together, the measures would add an extra $1.65 per month in taxes for every $100,000 in home value, or $6.6 per month for a $400,000 home.

An owner of a $404,000 home in the district paid near $1,300 in property taxes last school year, according to a budget document.

If the school board places the measures on residents’ ballots, the public would approve or deny the plans in November 2020. As of Aug. 10, the next school board meeting had not been scheduled.  County election officials said the last day for the school district to place a referendum on the ballot would be Aug. 25.

The bond dollars would be put toward fixing old school buildings and possibly erecting a new school on the district’s rapidly developing eastern edge. The district also floated the possibility of building a $7 million mental health “Day Treatment Center” as well as spending $26 million for safety and security measures and $12 million for technology. 

The pandemic-induced recession quickly slashed revenue from state government coffers in the spring.

State funding accounted for the largest share of Cherry Creek’s funding during the last school year. In June, the General Assembly cut $25 million from Cherry Creek’s share of the pie. This summer, Siegfried has repeatedly said the 55,000-student school system faces a dire budget situation. 

According to a district budget document, state legislators told district chiefs they can expect a larger cut of $33 million next year. 

For the 2020-20201 school year, the district is looking at a more than $17 million gap between revenues and expenditures. 

The district already planned $14 million in revenue reductions, including cutting travel, implementing strict energy savings rules in schools and reducing central office administration and front office staff. Brass also implemented a salary freeze for all employees and furlough days for teachers and other staff alike.

“Watch for more information about the budget and bond election package as well as updates on our budget challenges,” Siegfried wrote in his letter. “While our budget situation is dire, I am confident that we can work together as a community to find a path forward that empowers all students with an excellent education and a bright future.” 

Read Siegfried’s full letter here.