By Dr. Stan Scheer
Superintendent, Thompson School District
This past summer, the Thompson School District Board of Education voted to place two items on last November’s election ballot. They included a proposed Mill Levy Override in the amount of $11 million that addressed teacher and staff salaries, along with some other needs, as well as a $288 million proposed bond that would have been used to build some new schools, fix some things that are broken in our current buildings and re-align the district to make it much more efficient.
Both ballot items were rejected by the voters. And it wasn’t even close.
But why did they fail?
That is the big question that the Board and district staff have been reviewing ever since election day. Based on what we are learning, the reasons for the ballot failure vary a bit depending on who you talk to. For some, they thought the proposed increase in taxes was too much for what they could afford. Some people didn’t like the idea of building a new Loveland High School campus in the north part of the district. Others didn’t like the idea of building a new school in the east where a lot of our growth is going to occur. And some people did not like the proposed extension of the K-8 model within the district. The reasons why our community said “no” last November are varied and complex.
All of the data that we are gathering about the failed ballot items will influence the decisions that the district makes in the coming months as we move forward. And make no mistake, “moving forward” is what we have to do – The financial issues that we are faced with coupled with the growth that has arrived in the community are demanding solutions. We have to make changes. We have to become more efficient with our buildings, while also expanding our ability to serve the students we have today and the young people we will be serving in the future.
So why did the district decide to ask voters for more money?
In short, mill levy overrides and bonding are two methods for taxpayers to address financial shortfalls and help a school district prepare for the future. It’s a plan that school districts around the state have had to use, including several around Thompson. In 2009 and 2010, our district significantly cut our programs and costs in order to respond to state shortfalls.
Each year, the State of Colorado shorts TSD by about $14.5 million. This is money that the law says that the State owes us, but the State claims that it cannot pay. This constant annual shortage has been happening since 2009. The response by many school districts around the state has been to turn to their communities for help through the passage of mill levy overrides and capital construction bonds.
Our Master Planning Committee and Board of Education advanced the items on last November’s ballot because receiving more funding, taking steps to become even more efficient and doing what we can to attract and retain quality staff is critical. Consider the following:
-Over half of our elementary schools in the district now have less than 300 students.
-Every day, over 1,800 of our students leave this community to go to school in another district. Often, it’s because they live in an area where we don’t have adequate building service.
-Loveland High School is at 100% capacity and it also happens to serve an attendance area where more students are moving in every day.
-The north, east and south parts of the district are growing at a significant rate. And it is not expected to slow down anytime soon. We must remember that we serve an area of 362 square miles where potential growth is a given.
-Growth is underway in Berthoud, too. The impact from that growth will be significant for all of the schools there.
-Approximately 40% of our teaching staff now has 4 years or less of teaching experience. A big reason for this is that more experienced teachers can be lured to surrounding districts that offer higher salaries. TSD loses over 100 teachers every year.
All of the options are on the table for how to address these challenges. At the same time that we will be looking at financial options in the coming months, the district is also seriously considering the closing of some schools and potential program cuts. Every one of these options under consideration is rooted in the fact that we have to act on the need to become more efficient and responsive to the realities of a changing community in the 21st century. We have no choice.
We are a diverse district serving a diverse community. Our district consists of the entire city of Loveland and the town of Berthoud, along with portions of south Ft. Collins, sections of Windsor and Johnstown and unincorporated land in Larimer, Weld and Boulder counties. Our responsibility as a school district is to ensure that every child in every corner of our community is provided the excellent education that they deserve. This is what our families expect of us. And this is a challenge that we embrace because we believe it is a reasonable expectation.
We will continue to engage our family members and the community as we work toward finding some solutions to the serious challenges that we are facing. I hope you will join us. After all, Thompson School District is indeed our community school district, where great things happen every day. That must continue.