Volume 4 Issue 1

Jeffco Property Taxes and District Revenue Rise by Double Digits

by Cindy Johnson

If you own a home in Jefferson County, you know your home’s value has increased. Did you know the average home’s value increased over 22 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to the Jefferson County Assessor’s office? The total value of all residential properties increased from $56.9 billion in April 2015 to $83.02 billion in January 2016. According to a Denver Post article in January 2017, during this timeframe, Jefferson County had the highest percentage increase in residential property values among all Front Range counties. While some of that increase was the result of new homes being built, the average value of a single-family residence in 2014 was reportedly $267,335 while in 2016 it topped $325,000.

According to Zillow, the average value of a home in Jefferson County in September 2017 was over $390,000. While the rise in home values is a boon to the taxpayers’ net worth, the rise in taxes is hurting their cost of living.

Double digit percentage increases in home values also means a corresponding rise in cost of property taxes. According to the school district’s 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), the amount of local property taxes collected for the school district rose by over 13 percent between 2014 and 2016. And home prices are predicted to continue to rise throughout 2018. This means when the Jefferson County Assessor reappraises homes based on sales prices from 2016–2018 our property taxes are likely to see double-digit percentage increases again in 2018.

When our property taxes increase revenue for the school district also increases. According to the Colorado Department of Education’s Auditors Integrity Report, included as the last page in Jeffco’s CAFRs, the districts’ revenue rose over $84 million from 2014 to 2016.

How were those dollars allocated?

Nearly $60 million of the increase was put into reserves. Reserves are the district savings accounts which grew from $33 million in 2014 to almost $92 million in 2017. The majority of the rest of the $84 million was spent increasing compensation for district staff and increasing the number of administrators. In 2014, according to the district’s CAFR there were 559 administrators listed. In 2016 the number grew to 602 including Deans, a title the district began to use for administrators in 2015.


Despite this double-digit increase in revenue, in 2016 the Jeffco school board asked residents for an additional annual increase in property taxes of $33 million a year. The school board also asked residents to increases taxes in order to pay for an additional half billion dollars in debt. Homeowners would have had to spend nearly a billion dollars over the next 25 years to pay back the debt. Overwhelmingly Jeffco residents voted “no” to both tax increases.

The school board continues to say they need more revenue and yet there has been no mention of how increasing revenue will improve opportunities for students. In fact, this board hasn’t set any student achievement improvement goals nor are there any student achievement targets in the new superintendent’s contract.

The board continues to say there have been significant budget cuts—interesting vocabulary when revenue and spending have actually increased. What could the board possibly mean when they say that Jeffco has made budget cuts? It simply means revenue hasn’t increased by as much as they would like.

How much more does the board desire? How much more do they believe they need? There have been no answers to these questions. What we do know is that property values in Jeffco continue to increase which corresponds to increased taxes for homeowners and increased revenue for the district.

Is Your School on the Chopping Block?

by Karen Schotz

Less than five months after they were elected, the “clean slate” board surprised the community with a list of possible school closures and consolidations. In fact, in the three plans they have considered, nearly 20 different Jeffco schools have been threatened with closure. There seems to be no consistency to the criteria used  for a school to make the closure list which leaves many wondering if their school will be next.

While the board has stated that schools with enrollment under 300 students are not efficient to run and suggested they should be evaluated for closure, not all of the schools that have been threatened are under 300 students. Some on the closure list have had much higher enrollments. Some have been high achieving; some have lower achievement. Some have had many empty seats available and some have been over-enrolled. Some are older buildings and some much newer.

“Susan Harmon voted to close Stober; Brad Rupert voted to close Pennington.”

Not only has the board not set any criteria for a school to make the closure list, they never asked the community for our priorities. While they have held a few community meetings, there wasn’t any attempt to establish a community task force in order to make a list of recommendations for how to evaluate schools for closure, nor was there any attempt at holding a series of town halls to solicit input on grade configurations, building adequacy, or the community’s support for school closures. This leaves many to wonder if they will wake up and find their school on a closure list. 

On April 22, 2016, in plan one, Glennon Heights and Pleasant View community members awoke to just such news. They learned the board was considering closing their schools. Families in 10 other elementary schools heard their schools might be closed with five super-sized schools built to replace them. The schools which were considered for closure and consolidation were: Allendale and Campbell; Parr and Little; Prospect Valley and Kullerstrand; Stober and Vivian; and Kendrick Lakes and Patterson.

Families naturally rallied and wrote letters to the board, attended the few community meetings that were quickly cobbled together, and asked that their schools be spared. Parents spent precious time advocating that the achievement growth in their schools was serving their students and sharing stories of personal impact. Messages varied, but every community rallied to support their school. By June 2016 the board had decided not to close or consolidate any schools and instead indicated they would ask for a tax increase. Families at the twelve schools rejoiced believing closing conversations were finished. Then in late June came plan two.

Summer had already begun for most families when the board indicated they would be seeking a nearly-billion-dollar bond (tax increase). Allegedly the funds were to update buildings and the plan included no school closures, but millions were allocated to adding additional capacity to elementary and middle schools. Many wondered where the original thoughts of increasing building efficiencies had gone as this plan added over 3,000 new classroom seats to the already 10,000 empty seats across the district.

“Brad Rupert suggested the board close schools in parts of the community that had not voted in favor of the billion- dollar tax increase.”

This plan included replacing Parr, Kendrick LakesGreen Gables, Prospect Valley, Fletcher Miller, and Marshdale elementary schools. Each new building would have cost over $25 million. Replacing Stober was not on the list for phase one and many wondered why Green Gables, Marshdale, and Fletcher were on the list when the other schools that had more facility needs were not. Community members said no to the plan by voting down the nearly-billion-dollar tax increase required for its implementation.

Plan three emerged in January 2017. Seeking to “save money,” the board once again began discussing school closures and consolidations. Peck, Pennington, Pleasant View, Stober, and Swanson elementary schools found themselves the subject of these closure conversations. The board also considered closing the Gifted and Talented Center program at Wheat Ridge High School, the only GT Center at the high school level in the whole district, and moving Long View into McLain. They ignored the millions of additional dollars that had come to the district due to the increase in tax revenues from skyrocketing property values.

While the goal of efficiency is to be commended, community members once again were confused by how these schools came to be targeted. There seemed to be no consistent criteria or methodology for selecting which schools might be closed. This is causing fear in nearly every school community. In fact, according to Rocky Mountain PBS, the only consistency to the schools on the plan seemed to be that the “plan would impact low-income students disproportionately.” (http://www. rmpbs.org/blogs/news/disadvantaged- students-more-likely-to-be-impacted-by- jeffco-school-closures/)

Families once again scrambled to understand how their school had ended up on the closure list. They rallied alumni to share stories of the impact of each school on the community. They prepared presentations and on February 9, 2017, the board room was filled to overflowing with families asking that their schools be kept open. The conversations revealed some interesting perspectives. Board member Brad Rupert suggested the board close schools in parts of the community that had not supported the billion dollar tax increase.

While the board voted 5–0 to close Pleasant View, other school closure decisions were not unanimous. Stober, one of the highest performing schools on the list and one which had been spared only a year earlier, came within one vote of being closed. Both Amanda Stevens and Susan Harmon voted to close Stober. Brad Rupert voted to close Pennington. All board members indicated there would be more school closures in the future.

The new Superintendent has said barring unexpected events he would not be proposing additional school closures. However, in 2011 then-superintendent Cindy Stevenson said the same thing and by year’s end there were two schools closed. School closures are board- level decisions and the board has still not set any criteria for evaluating school closures. A further challenge for elementary schools is the change the board implemented recently moving 6th graders out of elementary schools and into middle schools. After the change, there will be about 25 elementary schools under the arbitrary 300-student enrollment target the board set. This will move additional schools to the potential closure list.

School closures are sometimes inevitable when families with children move or the children grow up and there are not as many students needing to be served. But research shows closing schools does not help improve student achievement and has many negative impacts in the community. The school board needs to make parents and the community a part of the conversation and decisions can’t appear random.

School Closure Plans Over the Last Decade

In 2008, recognizing that district enrollment was declining, the Jefferson County School Board directed the superintendent to create a Facility Usage Committee. A group of more than 30 community members was tasked with creating a process to evaluate which schools should be recommended for closure. They also created a list of potential boundary and grade configuration changes, in addition to the possible school closures based on the priorities they set. The committee met for nearly a year and conducted dozens of community meetings, many with overflow crowds, as they discussed both moving sixth grade to middle school and the potential for school closures that would create. They also discussed which schools might close to eliminate some of the district’s empty seats.

The 2009 school board election ushered in three new school board members, electing those that opposed moving sixth grade to middle schools. The first task the new board faced was deciding which schools, if any, should be closed and which parts of the Facility Usage Committee’s recommendations should be implemented. Within 60 days of being sworn in, the new board decided to close only one school, Russell Elementary. Students were moved to Arvada Middle School which became a K–8. Later that year, the empty Russell campus was sold to Jefferson County and became home to the county-wide Head Start Program. No community was surprised to find their school on the closure list. The priorities for making the closure list were clear and the community was engaged in the conversation.

School Closed.png

Just a year later in 2011, such was not the case. The superintendent presented a new facility plan which recommended 10 schools for potential closure: Campbell, Glennon Heights, Kullerstrand, Parr, Pleasant View, Red Rocks, Martensen, Stober, Thompson, and Zerger. The plan also recommended closing six additional elementary schools and building three new supersized elementary schools. The schools on the list were Colorow and Leawood, Kendrick Lakes and Patterson, as well as Green Gables and Westgate. The threats of closure caused immense anxiety in communities and the superintendent was forced to announce there would be no additional school closures.

The relief was again short-lived. After a series of behind-closed-doors negotiating sessions with the unions in an attempt to save money, Martensen and Zerger were recommended for closure. The recommendations didn’t come until March 2011, after the first round of choice enrollment had passed, so many parents had to scramble to find new schools for their children. Since their closure, neither the Zerger nor the Martensen buildings have been sold, so the district continues to use operating funds to maintain both buildings. They had remained closed and empty for a number of years.

In 2014, Martensen began hosting security trainings and although the site is still owned and supported by the district it has now officially become a training center for law enforcement. Zerger remained empty until 2017; Doral Arts Academy is now renting the facility.

In November 2011, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman were elected to the school board and in spite of continued declining enrollment, school closure conversations ceased. After the 2013 elections, the school board directed staff to work with communities to understand their desired grade configurations and facility needs. After many community meetings, both the Jefferson and Alameda areas decided to consolidate their middle and high schools. The board approved both decisions and seventh and eighth grade students were moved to the high school campuses. In the Alameda area, O’Connell Middle School became home to the students from Stein Elementary, while that school underwent extensive updates. Stein reopened this year and elementary students returned to what is now called Rose Stein while some stayed in the O’Connell building, now called Emory O’Connell Elementary.

In the Jefferson High School area, the seventh and eighth grade students from Wheat Ridge 5–8 were moved to Jefferson High School campus. The fifth and sixth graders stayed in the Wheat Ridge 5–8 building and the K–4 students from Stevens also moved into the Wheat Ridge 5–8 (formerly Wheat Ridge Middle School). The students from Sobesky found a new home in the previous Stevens Elementary building.

Currently the four schools that were closed in order to save money are still maintained by the school district. Sobesky, Pleasant View, Zerger and Martensen could be sold so that taxpayers don’t need to continue maintaining them. The funds from the sale could be used for the many necessary capital improvements.

Current Board Will Spend $50 Million to Move Sixth Graders to Middle School

Is This Best for Students and Does Jeffco Need More Seats?

by Jenna Schmitt

Jeffco is a unique place. We live at the base of the foothills, just miles away from a variety of wonderful outdoor adventures and yet only minutes away from the cultural offerings of Denver. Right here in Jefferson County we have the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheatre, miles and miles of trails and open space, as well as cultural havens including theaters, museums, and even a dinosaur attraction.

Access to a great lifestyle isn’t the only unique characteristic of Jefferson County. We are one of the few school districts in the coun- try where a majority of our sixth graders are educated in elementary schools. Periodically, over the last three decades, the Jeffco commu- nity has engaged in a conversation about mov- ing sixth graders from elementary schools to middle schools. Each time the community, after long conversations and months of study, has said no to the idea.

And yet without any community engage- ment and providing little public justification, our current school board, which has three members running for reelection this fall, is pur- suing a path to force sixth graders out of el- ementary school. The current plan comes with a price tag of about $50 million to add capacity to the middle schools which currently could not accommodate additional students. Those schools include Creighton, Ken Caryl, Summit Ridge, Dunstan, Drake, and Manning Middle Schools.

In addition to the $50 million price tag, the plan calls for adding over 2,200 new classroom seats. But there are already 10,000 empty class- room seats across Jeffco. Why would the board support a plan which increases the number of empty classroom seats by 20 percent?

Additionally, removing the sixth graders from elementary schools will create about 25 small elementary schools, defined as having under 300 students. This board has said that schools with enrollment below 300 are inefficient to run and should be considered for closure. (See Figure 1.) Why would this board be pursuing a plan which could put 25 neighborhood schools at risk of closure? We know from watching the declining enrollment at Pleasant View that when a school is on the closure list families begin to look at other schools to try and ensure they don’t have to move their students midway through their elementary experience.

Closing Pleasant View created an immense amount of stress in one of the most impacted communities in Jefferson County. The neigh- borhood was split as families were sent to two different schools. In one of the new schools students will receive additional supports be- cause they are attending a high poverty school, but that is not the case in the other new school. Additionally, questions remain about how the new schools will replicate many of the pro- grams which were offered at Pleasant View, including the backpack program, food pantry, and holiday shop. Families of students who were in Pleasant View’s center program lived through even more stress because the district did not decide the new school for their stu- dents until late spring. Forcing sixth graders out of elementary schools will put many more communities at risk of their schools closing.

Many are asking what student achievement improvements will be gained from forcing sixth graders into middle schools. Certainly, high achieving students will be able to access higher levels of math and all students will have access to more robust electives offered at mid- dle schools. However, students will also spend less time learning to read and write. In elemen- tary schools, students usually spend nearly two hours a day in literacy instruction; in middle school that is usually reduced to less than an hour a day. With 48 percent of Jeffco sixth graders not meeting grade level standards in English Language Arts, how will a reduction in instruction help improve student achievement?

While there is not much research on the top- ic, the few studies available show sixth grad- ers’ academic achievement is higher when they are educated in elementary schools. We have heard no plans from Jeffco’s leadership on how our sixth graders will get the extra literacy sup- ports they need.

Parents of students in autism center pro- grams which offer robust services to elemen- tary students have spoken loudly against the move. At present, services for autistic students in middle schools are not nearly as compre- hensive as those in elementary schools. Parents of Gifted and Talented students in center pro- grams in south Jeffco and Lakewood are also worried as the middle schools with GT center programs don’t have room for sixth graders.

The district’s solution is to send just one class of sixth graders to the GT middle school cen- ter program. That will result in a school of 600 students having only 30 sixth graders. Families who have been considering Manning are also concerned. If no classrooms are added to Man- ning when they begin adding sixth graders, there will be less room for the many families on the choice list hoping to access the great educa- tion provided at Manning.

When the conversations happened in Jeffco in previous years, the community engagement process took months and in some cases years. The current Jeffco school board did not have these conversations during their campaigns in 2015 and yet by mid-2016 they were hav- ing discussions about making the change. Has there been a survey of parents to know how many Jeffco residents support or oppose mov- ing sixth graders to middle school? The only indication we have might be the defeat of the 2016 tax increase which would have financed the $50 million move. The tax initiative was soundly defeated at the ballot box.

 Figure 1

Figure 1

Jeffco Admin Grows by More Than 10%

We all want more money to go into our classrooms. The school board is continuously bemoaning a lack of adequate resources. They are proud of the low overhead in Jeffco Schools. But a quick look at the data paints a far different picture. According to district data, Jeffco enrollment in district-run schools has been relatively flat since 2013.

Despite this trend, the number of Jeffco administrators has increased over the same timeframe by more than 10 percent. At the end of 2013, 523 staff members were classified as administrators. At the end of 2016, just three years later the number of administrators, including deans, had risen to 602, a 15 percent increase.

Over the same timeframe the number of teachers declined from 4,401 to 4,316. The number of teacher librarians has also decreased from 118 to 111.

If every administrator’s salary and benefits adds about $100,000 to our expenses that is nearly $8 million in additional administrative overhead, more than enough to give every teacher a 1 percent salary increase.

How is growing administration helping improve achievement?

Choice Enrollment in Jeffco Is Alive and Well

by John Rofer

When most people hear the words “school choice,” they think about charter schools. Jeffco is home to many public charter schools providing a variety of curriculum options for families. However, parents in Jeffco are free to choice into any district-run neighborhood school, as well as a charter school. Data tells us about one third of Jeffco families are choosing a public school that is not their neighborhood boundary school.

Families may choose a school other than their boundary school for a variety of reasons. They may be seeking a geographic location close to work or extended family or they might want a specific program which might better serve their student.

Jeffco offers dozens of center programs, similar to a school within a school. The programs range from providing differentiated education for gifted students to serving those with developmental disabilities.

In addition, there are over a dozen option schools in Jeffco. These include Brady and Long View High Schools which serve students who struggle in their larger neighborhood schools. Sobesky provides an individualized

“Over the last decade the number of students in charter schools has doubled.”

educational and therapeutic environment supporting students’ social-emotional awareness. Jeffco also provides education services to youth who are incarcerated with the Department of Youth Services.

Jeffco offers an online education academy for secondary students along with schools which provide highly academic options like Dennison, Manning and D’Evelyn. There is also the Jeffco Open School, a PreK–12 school, where students work closely with an advisor to design their own curriculum.

Included in the portfolio of charter schools, six offer a Montessori education, including Jeffco’s newest charter school, Great Work, which just opened this year. Great Work is the first charter school to serve elementary students in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Jefferson County. In addition to the Montessori curriculum, the school’s mission is to serve an economically diverse student population. Initial reports are they are on track to meet this integration goal as about 50 percent of their students’ families live in poverty and 50 percent do not.

There are eight Core Knowledge/Classical charter schools. These schools provide a traditional education often using Saxon or Singapore math, teaching traditional phonics, and using original texts. They are scattered across the district in geographically diverse areas from Littleton to Evergreen to Westminster.

“Mountain Phoenix offers the only public Waldorf curriculum in Jeffco.”

The district also has a handful of unique charter schools. Rocky Mountain Deaf School is located in the district; they offer instruction in both American Sign Language and English. New America School is a high school which primarily serves new immigrants by offering day and evening classes and flexible pacing to accommodate their students’ needs. Mountain Phoenix offers the only public Waldorf curriculum in Jeffco and Doral Academy focuses on arts integration with their staff receiving training through the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Two Roads serves K–12, full time and home school students. They offer concurrent enrollment and Ascent programs so students can earn college credit and possibly an Associate’s Degree while in high school. 

Over the last decade the number of students in charter schools has doubled. And the number of families choosing a district school which is not their home boundary school continues to increase, while overall district enrollment declines. More families are taking advantage of the diverse curriculum offerings available across Jeffco.

JeffCo Superstars

Colorado Bandmasters Association gave retired D’Evelyn teacher, Steve Martin, the 2017 Hall of Fame award. He led the D’Evelyn marching band to five state 2A titles.

Congratulations to last years’ Conifer DECA participants. Conifer had the highest percentage of state qualifiers from the district conference, and they sent 15 students to the International Career Development Conference in Anaheim: Elle Hickman, Alissa Searcy, Nicholas Faraco-Hadlock, Kendall Benton, Merisa Trujillo, Jake Esposito, Mia Miller, Mason Meyer, Abe Martin, Piper Richey, Rachael Long, Ryan Dean, Jake Borchard, Jon Tyus and Austin Brown.

Additionally students racked up the most community service hours in the district, and the chapter received national recognition on the growth in members. Teacher/advisor Amber Hall was named New Marketing Teacher of the Year for Colorado DECA.

Prudential Spirit of Community Awards recognized Jeffco graduate Emma Albertoni, Ralston Valley, as a state honoree, for working to improve financial literacy education and Andrew Kent, Virtual Academy, as a distinguished finalist, for his work with the organization Love-Hope-Strength signing up donors for the national bone marrow registry—more than 1,500 people with 35 matches to date.

Arvada West’s Vocal Showcase Choir and Chris Maunu, Director of Choral Studies, was the first Jeffco choir and only the third Colorado Choir, to perform at the 2017 National American Choral Director’s Association Conference, the highest honor for a high school choir in the United States.

Congratulations to Jeffco’s 2017 Boettcher scholars: Benjamin Powell (Conifer), Shamik Bhat (Golden), Spencer Narowetz (Jefferson Academy), and Jon Abrahamson, Troy Jackson, and Dakota Kisling (all from Lakewood).

Community Voice

The Jeffco Observer accepts editorials from community members. Letters are printed at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for length, clarity, and style. The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the various authors on this forum do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of The Jeffco Observer or its staff.


On September 11, 2017, Colorado Politics published an interview with Jeffco’s new “Million Dollar” Superintendent, Jason Glass. The accompanying picture with his family sitting on hay bales with Mr. Glass, his wife, and two children dressed in cowboy hats makes them seem the quintessential Colorado family. There is no sign of Mr. Glass’ Kentucky roots or the two years he spent leading the Iowa Department of Education.

In the article, however, Mr. Glass tells us just how proud he is of the education reforms he implemented in Iowa. In the process, Mr. Glass insults tens of thousands of Colorado educators, students, parents and legislators who spent countless hours over the last two decades developing trend-setting changes in public education. It is clear Mr. Glass does not think much of the changes Colorado has made to our public education system despite the increases in student achievement our students have experienced. Mr. Glass is very proud of the changes he made in Iowa: “No other state in the country has accomplished anything similar to what Iowa has done in terms of genuine methods of raising educator quality.”

Of the changes in Colorado, he said, “Colorado has been a trendsetter in terms of test-based accountability, evaluation and expanded school choice, and all of these approaches have some merit. But I have yet to see a system which achieved greatness through pursuing them—Colorado included. I am skeptical of achieving system-wide greatness for our state through these approaches.”

Mr. Glass must not have been following the improved achievement growth Colorado students have earned. Compared to Iowa students, Colorado’s students have experienced more academic growth. I am not sure how they measure “educator quality” in Iowa, but if it isn’t increased student achievement, then what’s the point?

I hope Mr. Glass will change his ways and implement changes in Jeffco that have proven effective at improving student achievement not just “educator quality.”

C. Heine Concerned Parent


Nearly every month for over a year I and other parents of students with autism have come before the school board and asked them for more supports for our children in middle school. We have respectfully praised the efforts of some elementary teachers, but unfortunately most teachers don’t have the skills necessary to appropriately respond to the needs of our children.

We have politely asked the school board to slow down their seeming single-minded push to force 6th graders out of elementary schools. We continue to remind the board that our students currently have specially trained teachers in their elementary schools. Once students with autism move to middle school, no such extra supports exist.

Why the rush to move 6th graders out of elementary school. We just want assurance that there will be support for autistic children in middle schools before they are forced into classrooms with teachers who aren’t properly trained.

Why would the school board intentionally ignore the pleas of our group of passionate parents?

B. Hart Concerned Mom of a Child with Autism


As a long-time Wheat Ridge resident and a previous supporter of our current school board, I have become disenchanted as this board has time and again placed Wheat Ridge communities in their crosshairs. Shortly after they were elected, they threatened to close four of the eight elementary schools in Wheat Ridge and instead build super schools which would have made some students travel miles from their homes to attend elementary school. We love Stober, Vivian, Prospect Valley and Kullerstrand. Each school has a unique environment and serves its local community. By attending school board meetings and expressing our fears, the schools were not closed.

Then in January of 2017 for some reason the board focused on our town again. At the beginning of this year they threatened to close Pennington and Stober elementary schools. CLOSE TWO WHEAT RIDGE SHOOLS? Stober is a great high-performing and over- enrolled neighborhood school, but it came within one vote at a school board meeting of being closed. Susan Harmon, who is running to keep her seat on the school board, voted to close Stober. And Brad Rupert, who is also running for re-election, voted to close Pennington. Fortunately, neither will be closed, but how often must we go through this?

The board also threated to close the very popular and widely successful gifted and talented program at Wheat Ridge High School. Hundreds of students, staff, and parents turned out to support the program. While the

“Susan Harmon voted to close Stober; Brad Rupert voted to close Pennington.”

board did decide to fund the program for one more year, they provided even more ongoing funding to most other Jeffco high schools but left Wheat Ridge off the list. I am very disappointed in this board’s performance. I won’t be voting for the incumbents.

N. Vanenti Wheat Ridge Farmer


I was one of the many parents who were concerned in 2015 when I heard the Jeffco school board was disrespecting teachers, spending millions on attorneys and holding secret meetings. I was even more concerned when word spread that our school board might be trying to censor American History.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the AP History curriculum had already been changed—by the College Board. The College Board writes the tests and standards for Advanced Placement classes and they had just released new guidelines which didn’t include key historic figures like Martin Luther King. Even Jeffco Social Studies teacher, Stephanie Rossi, acknowledged that the new standards needed to be reviewed. Turns out all the board wanted to do was review, not censor, the new standards.

I also didn’t know that school boards regularly hire attorneys and sometimes have meetings behind closed doors to discuss personnel issues and to receive legal advice. The noise in 2015 certainly made me start to pay attention. I didn’t learn much of the truth until after the 2015 school board elections when it came out that much of the agitation was financed by the local and national teachers’ union. Despite Wendy McCord and other recall leaders insisting they didn’t receive funding from unions, the truth is they were! I don’t take kindly to being lied to. As my mother said fool me once shame on you…

S. Touche Jeffco Voter


For years I dutifully paid my membership fee to my school’s PTA. In fact, we usually paid for two memberships, one for my husband and one for myself. I considered it a donation to the school. I played an active role in fundraising, chaired the teacher appreciation event, and helped coordinate classroom volunteers. Then I learned that much of the dues money goes to support state and national efforts, not my school.

Worse, some of that money is used to advocate for or against legislation. Now I am OK with advocating for higher pay for great teachers and for improving student achievement, but did you know the PTA weighs in on non-school legislation being proposed in Colorado? Did you know the district- and state-level PTA votes on whether to support or oppose many bills going through the Colorado legislature? That is not really how I thought my PTA dollars were going to be spent. Oftentimes, I disagreed with the positions of the PTA. It seems like many positions taken by the Jeffco PTA do not support a parent’s right to direct the education of our children.

I might have been able to look past that, but I can’t look past the fact that the past president of the Jefferson County Teachers Union is now the president of the Jeffco PTA. I realize PTA is Parent Teacher Association but for me that means collaborating and working together. It doesn’t mean the teachers’ union takes over leadership. But now it makes sense why so many of the PTA positions on legislation don’t seem to be to be parent focused. I am now donating my dues money directly to the school.

S. Wiess Former PTA Member


There has been much in the news lately about reputable organizations severing ties with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Most recently the Pentagon announced it would no longer be using any of their resources. Many have called the SPLC a “powerful left-wing interest group” that has tagged many Christian organizations as “hate- groups.”

That is why I was shocked that Jeffco’s new Superintendent used SPLC resources on a list of suggested curriculum resources teachers could use in response to Charlottesville. Never mind that we have a process in Jeffco for new resources to be vetted before they are used in classrooms. Mr. Glass is new to Jeffco and we will give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know there is a process for staff, students, parents, and community members to review new material to avoid just the type of inappropriate use of resources Mr. Glass seemed to propose.

Setting aside the process blunder. How can anyone think that using resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jeffco classrooms is OK?

B. Hisnder


In some parts of Jeffco, 6th graders are taught in middle schools and it seems to work well for families. But in most of Jeffco, 6th graders are taught in elementary schools where they spend less time on electives, but more time on reading, writing, and arithmetic. I realize that is kind of unique in this day and age. It may very well explain why Jeffco’s 6th graders not only perform significantly better than students in most other grades, their achievement is also higher than 6th graders in most other districts. While there is not much research on the topic, what is available shows 6th graders taught in elementary schools do perform better than those in middle schools.

So why is Jeffco’s school board supporting a plan which will require spending up to $50 million to add capacity to middle schools and forcing 6th graders out of elementary schools? While some middle schools have enough seats to accommodate 6th graders, many do not. Adding classrooms to those buildings will add thousands more seats when there are already 10,000 empty classroom seats in Jeffco.

6th grade teachers will even have to take additional training in order to become “highly certified” to teach in middle school, something they will have to do on their own dime. Our 6th grade teachers are the best. I don’t want to lose them because they can’t afford the new certifications.

How is this a good use of taxpayer resources?

P. Seign Middle School Mom

Millions of Dollars out of Classrooms to Fund Retirements (PERA)

by Dan Lacey

Teaching is a hard profession. Many teachers spend countless hours planning and preparing lessons, grading papers and often spend their own money to buy classroom resources. How can Jeffco recruit new teachers with starting salaries less than $39,000? Don’t we want the best and brightest in front of our children every day? How can the teaching profession compete for the best college graduates when business, engineering and many other professions pay starting salaries of over $50,000?

“Taxpayers are contributing $84 million to retirement accounts each year.”

Why then, is the take-home pay of teachers so low? In Colorado, part of the reason is the exorbitant amount employers (or taxpayers, in the case of public school staffs) put into the retirement accounts of every school employee. School employees are not part of the Social Security system; instead they are covered by the pension scheme, PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association). If school staff were part of Social Security, the employers (taxpayers) would be making about an 8 percent match to about an 8 percent contribution made by the employee (just like those of us who do not work for a public entity).

Under the PERA system, school staff contribute 8 percent to their retirement fund (similar to other’s Social Security tax contribution), while taxpayers must contribute nearly 20 percent to the PERA retirement account for each employee. In Jeffco, that means taxpayers are contributing $84 million to retirement accounts each year. That is over $50 million more than would be contributed if school staff were part of Social Security.

If that 12 percentage point difference were applied to new teacher salaries, Jeffco starting salaries would be nearly $44,000. Would that be competitive enough for more college graduates to consider entering the teaching profession?

Making matters worse for new teachers, if they leave the profession in Colorado before their fifth year of service, they receive none of the money contributed by their employer. In other words, they only get to keep the 8 percent they contributed, but none of the 20 percent put in by their employer. Data shows over 50 percent of teachers leave the profession before their fifth year, likely without realizing how much they are leaving behind.

In fact, according to the PERA Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), projections are that 61 percent of teachers will leave the profession in the first four years. Those teachers leave without any of the 20 percent that taxpayers contributed to their retirement accounts. Those dollars stay in the PERA system to help support the retirement of those who stay in the profession and do not retire until they are 57 or 60 years old. Isn’t this a bit like a Ponzi scheme?

There are two reasons the contributions are so high. The first is the benefits promised are incredibly generous, many times higher than what Social Security pays. Some might argue that the generous retirement benefits compensate for the fact that teacher salaries are not high enough. However, those who do not wish to stay in the profession longer than five years, or those who may have to move might prefer higher take home pay. At the very least this reduces the pool of those willing to enter the teaching profession. Secondly, PERA is vastly underfunded because the benefits were calculated with the assumption that investment returns would average 7.25 percent, but the actual average annual return since 2000 is 5.2 percent.

“In Jeffco, that would mean an additional $20 million to cover benefits.”

Sadly, even these huge contributions are not enough to cover the promised benefits. The Denver Post recently ran an article which said the PERA board will propose to the legislature in January 2018 that taxpayers and school staffs contribute even more to PERA in order for there to be enough money to pay all of their retirees. They propose taxpayers pick up 2 percent more, taking the school district’s contribution to 22 percent of salaries. Staff will be asked to increase their contributions from 8 percent to 11 percent. In Jeffco, that would mean an additional $20 million dollars needed to cover benefits. Those dollars come directly from the operating budget every year. That’s $20 million that won’t go to increase teacher salaries or pay for classroom resources. Even then, the PERA board fully admits these increases may not be enough to honor the commitments to all of those currently covered by PERA.

How is any of this good for teachers, bus drivers, school nurses, or the tens of thousands of school staff who give up take-home pay early in their career in order to have guaranteed income in retirement? It certainly isn’t fair to the school staff who work fewer than four years. Shouldn’t we start figuring out how to pay new teachers a more competitive wage now and how to fix the broken retirement system without asking taxpayers to sacrifice their own retirements to higher taxes?

Editor’s note: Jeffco carries a $1.6 billion liability just to cover PERA pension debts.

50% of Jeffco Students Don’t Meet Grade-Level Expectations

Caucasian Students Far Underperform Their Peers in Denver

by Susan Wheeler

No one believes student success can be measured by one number. It is widely reported that Einstein was not a good student and yet he became one of the most famous scientists of all time. So while test scores for one student can’t be the sole measure of success, when determining the degree to which a public education system is fulfilling its duties, we can look at achievement numbers for the entire system. In Jeffco, the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture.

According to the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), only half of students in grades three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine are meeting grade-level standards in English Language Arts or Math.


from Jeffco Schools Achievement Presentation, Sept. 7, 2017

In fact, in math, for students taking grade- level classes, the percent of students meeting expectations is closer to 40 percent. The percent of students varies from a high of 47 percent of third graders meeting grade-level expectations in math to a low of 20 percent for eighth graders. It seems the longer students stay in Jeffco schools, the lower the percent of them remain performing at grade level.


from Jeffco Schools Achievement Presentation, Sept. 7, 2017

Despite less-than-stellar results, English and math look like bright spots when compared to student achievement levels in science. Assessments are given in fifth, eighth, and 11th grade for science. For the year 2017 only 42 percent of fifth grade students met grade level expectations, 40 percent of eighth graders, and by 11th grade only 35 percent of students met grade-level expectations in science. That means only slightly more than one-third of students who are just a year away from graduation have the necessary science skills to be considered proficient.


from Jeffco Schools Achievement Presentation, Sept. 7, 2017

Colorado did adopt tougher academic standards in 2010 which are now being measured on state assessments. But even those tougher standards aren’t as rigorous as standards in other countries. According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 26 pecent of US students were low performers in math compared to 23 percent from other countries. Saying that students in Jeffco are doing better than in other districts across Colorado is clearly not good enough.

The correct question is whether or not Jeffco students will be ready for college and careers. According to the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s “2014 Skills for Jobs Summary,” experts project that 74 percent of jobs in Colorado will require post-secondary education or training. Colorado ranks third in the nation in the percent of jobs that will require post-secondary education. Yet, fewer than 50 percent of Jeffco students meet the college readiness benchmarks on the SAT for both Reading/Writing and Math. That means one in two students ready to graduate from a Jeffco high school are not adequately prepared for college-level work.


from Jeffco Schools Achievement Presentation, Sept. 7, 2017

Many say the problem in Jeffco is the percent of students who live in poverty or the number who speak English as a second language. The reality is, only about one-third of Jeffco’s students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, which is a measure of the number of students living in poverty. And only 24 percent of Jeffco students are Hispanic. It doesn’t take great math skills to figure out the lack of student achievement is not just among Hispanic students or those from poorer families.

A Chalkbeat article from October 4, 2017, included data that reveals that white students in Denver far out-perform white students in Jeffco. In Denver, 70 percent of white fourth graders met the state level expectations in English, while in Jeffco that figure is 59 percent. Stated differently, 2,400 Jeffco fourth graders do not meet grade-level expectations in English, enough to fill six elementary schools. (www.chalkbeat.org)


from Chalkbeat article dated October 4, 2017

In fourth grade math, the percentage point difference between Denver fourth graders and Jeffco fourth graders is even worse. Sixty percent of Denver’s white students meet expectations in math, while in Jeffco that number is only 47 percent.


from Chalkbeat article dated October 4, 2017

And the scores aren’t any better for Jeffco’s seventh graders. While Denver improved from 70 percent of their white fourth graders meeting expectations in English to 77 percent of seventh graders, Jeffco stayed at 59 percent of seventh graders meeting grade-level


from Chalkbeat article dated October 4, 2017

expectations. In math, Denver jumped from 60 percent of fourth graders meeting expectations to 64 percent in the seventh grade. Jeffco actually fell from 47 percent of fourth graders to only 41 percent of seventh graders meeting math expectations.

One student’s performance on one day, on one test should never be taken as the totality of that student’s success. But in Jeffco, measure after measure after measure indicates that 50


from Chalkbeat article dated October 4, 2017

percent of our students aren’t meeting grade level expectations even after spending increases each year.

Jeffco residents need to admit there is a problem and it is not just a problem among poor or Hispanic students. It is time to demand to know how effective each program in Jeffco is at improving student achievement. It is time to stop doing things that don’t work, start understanding what does work, and spread best practices. Our children deserve the very best opportunities.