Only about 14 of Colorado’s 178 school districts are asking voters for property tax increases this year to pay for building projects or for operating revenue.
The biggest request is from the Brighton school district, which is proposing a $248 million bond issue to build new schools and renovate others.
The only other significant proposals are a $92 million bond in Steamboat Springs and a Roaring Fork School District bond issue of $122 million.
This year’s short list is in sharp contrast to recent elections. In 2014, about two-dozen school districts sought some $1.5 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and operating funds. About half were rejected.
The 2015 ballot includes bond issues totaling about $500 million — and Brighton’s request accounts for half of that. Requests for tax hikes to fund operating expenses total only about $5 million. (See the full list at the bottom of this article.)
In three districts, voters will face requests for two tax increases.
Steamboat Springs is seeking the bond to build a new high school, convert a middle school to elementary use and renovate and expand other buildings. The district also is proposing a $327,500 increase in operating revenue to staff the new facilities. That levy would rise to $1.9 million in its third year.
- Bond measures are voter-approved increases in property taxes for facilities needs. Districts sell bonds to raise the cash to pay for construction, then use the additional tax revenues to pay the bonds off.
- Mill levy overrides are voter-approved hikes in a district’s general property tax rate that a district generally uses for operating expenses or special needs like technology purchases. (A mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent and is used as a mathematical device to calculate taxes.)
Voters in the Fort Lupton district will consider both a bond issue and proposed continuation of an existing tax override for operating expenses. The Kit Carson district is proposing both a general operating revenue increase and a second increase earmarked for technology expenses.
Brighton’s bond issue is designed to pay for a new high school, a new middle school and two new elementary schools. It also would provide funding for building upgrades and for two charter schools.
The rapidly growing, 17,000-student district has long struggled with overcrowding. Brighton is trying again after a $148 million bond was defeated a year ago.
The 96-student Hinsdale County district in remote Lake City has a more modest request — a $5.9 million bond to build a gym. According to the election list compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project, Hinsdale is the “only district in [the] state without a gymnasium.”
Education observers give a variety of reasons for the low number of tax proposals planned for the Nov. 4 ballot, including highly contested board races in some districts. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more analysis of this year’s election.)
The list of tax proposals may be longer in 2016. Several larger districts — including Denver, Cherry Creek and St. Vrain — are reported to be considering requests next year.