Neighbors, you may have noticed the campaign materials in support of a half-billion dollar school bond initiative called 3B. I ask you today to vote no. I believe this bond asks the taxpayers of southwest Denver for too much, while providing our children with too little and while creating an astronomical amount of debt that will hurt our kids in the long run.
According to Denver Public Schools’ figures, 12 of our schools in southwest Denver (DPS District 2) are over 100 percent capacity. Our schools are overcrowded, and they have been for many years. However, there is no money earmarked in this proposed bond 3B to solve the chronic overcrowding of the schools of District 2.
A full presentation of the breakdown of allocations is at this link.
But what the 3B bond package does contain is approximately $40 million for a new high school for the Stapleton neighborhood, to be built adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, even though approximately 1,500 high school seats are available at Manual and George Washington high schools. The center of the Stapleton neighborhood is 4.5 miles away from Manual High School, 5 miles away from George Washington High School, and 4 miles away from the proposed site. The equidistance to currently available space makes this construction completely unnecessary. Further, the majority of students currently living in Stapleton are elementary-school aged and younger. The need simply does not exist today.
To make matters worse, the money allocated in the 3B bond for the proposed Stapleton High School is more than what’s allocated for George Washington, North, South, Kennedy, Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson high schools combined. I believe it is unfair to subsidize new buildings in areas of Denver that don’t need them, on the backs of southwest Denver’s working families and senior citizens, especially not when District 2 has the second-largest student population in the entire school district.
The 3B bond is a tax hike that places a financial burden on our community, without providing an equitable share of the proposed improvements. According to 2008 figures, the median income of adults residing in 80219 (the largest portion of District 2) is around $1100 per month. A quick look at rental prices in the area shows that the average three-bedroom home is approximately $1300 a month. Immediately, one begins to see that any tax hike will make an already tight household budget even more difficult to manage. This holds true whether you own your home or business or whether you’re a renter.
I also have a great concern for the debt that the district is accumulating at great speed. Should 3B pass, DPS would have accumulated more than $3 BILLION in debt. Let’s not kid ourselves: the payments and fees associated with this debt come right out of classrooms. This is especially hard to swallow, knowing that in 2008 we passed a bond that provided DPS with $454 million to improve its facilities. From the 2008 bond proceeds, $230 million (51%) was spent on sorely-needed maintenance on its existing buildings. However, $224 million (49%) was spent on new buildings for elite charter schools or to remodel existing buildings to force in other elite charter schools, causing overcrowding and a drastic reduction of services and options for the children in the existing schools.
It should be noted that almost none of these elite charter schools were requested by parents, who instead time and again ask for improvements to their existing schools. In fact, even when the members of the Community Planning Advisory Committee assembled by the district (with no members attending from southwest Denver) were asked how they would prioritize potential bond funds, sustainability of facilities, preservation of existing buildings, and technology improvements were top three choices of at least 63 percent of the respondents. At the bottom of the list of priorities were new school capacity and “shared campuses.” Even for this carefully-selected group of people, the district’s strategy of forcing schools to share space was not a popular one. So why would we spend money on such projects?
Had the district used the money according to what they led voters in 2008 to believe, and not on unpopular pet projects, we would not be facing the drastic need for building maintenance we have today, and we would not be in this position of asking Denver’s taxpayers for more money. This is simply a poor way to manage the resources that taxpayers provide to educate our children.
These are among the reasons why I voted against sending the 3B bond to the ballot, and I’m encouraging you to vote no on 3B as well.
We can do better. Just as we all live according to our means, DPS must also learn to do the same. We can go back to the drawing board next year and come up with a bond package that meets real needs of our schools, according to the priorities set forth by parents and community.
Join me in voting NO on Denver’s 3B bond, and let’s ensure we have fiscally-responsible equity for all our kids.