By Ann Randall
Enrollment in Jeffco schools has begun growing again. Nowhere in the district is that growth more apparent than in northwest Arvada. New houses are being built and sold, and houses in older neighborhoods are turning over—both to families with children. Long-term projections show as many as 4,000 new students may need seats in this area. However, as we have seen before, economic downturns could significantly change those projections.
The growth in the next couple of years does show 500 to 600 new school-age students will choose Jeffco schools in northwest Arvada. While total capacity exists districtwide, there are not enough seats in northwest area schools to absorb all of the region’s expected new students.
Over the last year the Jeffco School Board considered a number of alternative plans to accommodate the new students. Those plans have been as diverse as adding temporary buildings to existing school sites or building new schools in various locations.
Ms. Fellman and Ms. Dahlkemper even proposed the district acquire $80 million in certificates of participation (COPs), short-term debt arrangements that don’t require voter approval. Approving this $80 million proposal would have been similar to taking a second mortgage on a house. The proposed $80 million was to pay for two new schools, one in Arvada and one in Lakewood, as well as a new stadium in south Jeffco. The proposal would have required annual payments of between $4 million to $5 million a year. Although asked repeatedly what cuts they would make to fund the annual payments, no answers were forthcoming.
That proposal and others that would have required new debt without asking the community were voted down by Mr. Witt, Mr. Newkirk, and Ms. Williams who opted instead to task the staff to find alternative sources of funding. The superintendent returned with proposals to use one-time savings from administrative costs. The board voted to direct staff to use $18 million in one time savings to build a K–6 elementary school in northwest Arvada. Original drafts of the new school showed costs for a new K–8 school to be over $20 million. However, with room in neighborhood middle schools, the board directed staff to focus where the capacity needs were greatest. Staff returned with a budget of $18 million to build the new K–6.
Additional proposals from Ms. Fellman and Ms. Dahlkemper continued and they all included COPs to fund new schools. Each proposal reduced the amount of requested debt, but never included what cuts should be made to cover the annual payments. Ultimately, the board majority voted to use one-time funds and avoided any additional debt. The community will have a new school building to house additional students in the county’s fastest growing area and it should open in time for the 2017–18 school year.