Cherry Creek asking voters for tax hikes to offset ‘devastating’ budget cuts

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AURORA | Cherry Creek schools officials are asking voters this fall to hike property taxes to offset what they say are drastic budget cuts now and in the future that could jeopardize districtwide education.

Citizens for Cherry Creek Schools held a virtual campaign kick-off Tuesday to advocate for a mill levy and bond increase that will be on the Nov. 3 ballot . The measures seek to raise $150 million in construction funds and $35 million a year in operating revenues.

The event, streamed over Facebook Live, brought together Superintendent Scott Siegfried, Board of Education President Karen Fisher and Cherry Creek Education Association president Kasey Ellis to discuss the measures.

The “fireside chat” was conducted by 2020 Grandview High School graduate Jacob Wright, who said that he discovered his love of theater and music at Grandview High School, which led to him being accepted to Berklee School of Music in Boston.

“That’s why I think it’s so important we pass 4A and 4B, because it will give students the best opportunities to achieve their goals — just like I have,” he said.

Siegfried said a dire budget situation warrants asking voters for money, even on a crowded ballot. Generally, school districts seek tax hikes during off-cycle election years.

The district’s budget was cut by $25 million this fiscal year, Siegfried said, a reduction of $463 per student, he said. School officials have been told to anticipate a districtwide $33 million cut next year, he said.

To offset the loss of revenue, school officials enacted a variety of cuts, including a salary freeze, changed staffing ratios in schools and furloughed teachers for five days and administrators for six, Siegfried said. In total, $14.3 million in cuts are being made.

However, he said in order to maintain current services, the district will need money to make up for the cuts.

Ballot measure 4A would increase operating revenue by $35 million a year. Bond recommendation 4B would raise $150 million to fund capital initiatives identified by a task force.

A task force has identified $150 million in construction and maintenance needs. The list includes renovations to Village East Elementary School, maintenance on aging schools, expansion to the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, safety and security upgrades and the creation of a $7 million mental health day treatment center.

The measure would cost homeowners $1.65 a month per $100,000 of property value.

If the measures passes, the district would still have a $10.7 million budget shortfall. If it fails, it would have to absorb a $45.7 million deficit.

He mentioned that the district currently has a nurse in each school as one of the things that makes the district stand out, and that it wants to be able to maintain that.

“Those are the things that we’re fighting for,” Siegfried said.

He acknowledged that asking families to increase their tax bill during a time where many people are facing financial hardship was a hard decision.

“But again, if we don’t, the cuts are devastating and we will all pay the price of that — employees, kids, property owners, community,” he said.