Denver Issues 4A and 4B: School bond and mill levy override

Ballot measure 4A, also called the Debt-Free Schools ballot initiative, seeks to invest in personnel across Denver Public Schools, specifically by increasing wages for hourly workers, offering a cost-of-living raise for teachers, and adding mental health professionals and nurses. The measure would be funded by an increase in property taxes; that increase is based on the “assessed value” of each property. If approved, the district estimates property taxes will increase about $51 annually, or $4.25 per month, for a home valued at $465,000.

The case for: Proponents of the measure see it as an investment in Denver children. By contributing funds to hiring and increasing pay for teachers, school staff and mental health professionals, the district believes every student can receive a high-quality education and receive the social-emotional support they need to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

The case against: Opponents argue that now, in the midst of a pandemic that has put millions out of work, is the wrong time to ask voters to commit to a tax hike.

Ballot question: “Shall Denver Public School taxes be increased up to $32 million in tax collection year 2021 and by the amounts in any year thereafter as are raised from a mill levy of up to 4 mills pursuant to and in accordance with Section 22-54-108.7, C.R.S., provided that the mill levy for the first year shall not exceed 1.55 mills and no mill levy increase from year to year shall exceed 1 mill, with the effect that more general fund revenues will be available for purposes such as: adding and maintaining mental health professional and school counselors to support students; adding and maintaining school nurses to support COVID-19 monitoring and prevention as well as other health education; increasing minimum wages for school support staff; and adding cost of living funds to pay educators a living wage; and shall such additional revenues from this tax increase be deposited into the supplemental capital construction, technology and maintenance fund and used for ongoing cash funding for capital construction, new instructional technology, existing technology upgrades, and maintenance needs of the district; and shall the district be authorized to increase such mill levy beginning in 2022 and annually thereafter to offset property tax refunds or abatements or reductions in the percentage of actual valuation used to determine assessed valuation; and shall Denver Public Schools publish an annual report on the expenditures of these freed up general funds?”

Ballot measure 4B seeks to fund improvement projects across the district, including adding air conditioning to buildings and classrooms, upgrading science and computer labs, increasing and upgrading technology for students, and investing in the forthcoming comprehensive high school on the Montbello campus. Total improvements will cost $795 million. If approved, the district expects it will not raise property taxes based on current and forecasted property values.

The case for: The average age of a Denver Public Schools building is 52 and many need substantial upgrades to be suitable for 21st-century learning, according to proponents of the bond. Some of the projects this bond would fund include building or renovating the Montbello campus’ newly announced comprehensive high school, installing air conditioning in some of the district’s hottest classrooms, and expanding student access to at-home internet technology so they have the access they need to continue their studies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The case against: Opponents argue that now, in the midst of a pandemic that has put millions out of work, is the wrong time to ask voters to commit to a tax hike.

Ballot question: “Without imposing any new tax, shall Denver Public Schools debt be increased $795 million, with a maximum repayment cost of not more than $1,500 million for the purposes of: maintaining and renovating existing school buildings by replacing leaking roofs, making critical repairs and addressing structural problems; providing cooling systems for high temperature classrooms and schools that lack air conditioning; adding new schools and additional classrooms and making improvements to existing schools to address overcrowding and reduce class sizes; purchasing additional computers so that students have access to technology they need during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter; improving learning environments in older school buildings by upgrading science and computer labs and modernizing classroom instructional technology; improving student safety in school buildings and improving security at school entryways; improving and expanding early childhood learning environments; and other capital improvements; and shall the taxes authorized at the district’s bond elections in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2016 be extended and authorized to be used to pay the debt authorized at this election in addition to the debut authorized at such prior elections; shall the mill levy be increased in any year, without limitation or rate but only in an amount sufficient to pay the principal of, premium, if any, and interest on such debt or any refunding dent (or to create a reserve for such payment); and may such debt be evidenced by the issuance of general obligation bonds or other multiple fiscal year obligations that be sold in one series or more, for a price above or below the principal amount thereof, on terms and conditions, and with such maturities as permitted by law and as the district may determine?”

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