Perspectives on the 2016 Bond Premium Process

DPS Bond Gym Project

By Russell Welch and Kim Desmond, 2016 Bond Oversight Committee Co-chairs

In the fall of 2016, voters cast their ballots in support of students across Denver. Passing the 2016 bond and mill levy measures was a sign of commitment to all of our students in DPS. All of us on the 2016 Bond Oversight Committee (BOC), are committed to ensuring DPS keeps their promise to voters, educators and students by utilizing bond funds to build and maintain great schools across the district.

The BOC is a citizen committee comprised of community stakeholders, parents, teachers and industry representatives tasked with holding DPS accountable for how it allocates and spends taxpayer dollars from the 2016 bond measure.  We are passionate about ensuring that bond funds are responsibly and appropriately spent so that we can give the parents and taxpayers of Denver the assurance that our students are getting all they can out of our bond investments. Establishing a foundation of trust and financial transparency between DPS and the Denver community has driven this committee since the beginning.

In addition to providing oversight, the committee has the responsibility of allocating additional funds from the sale of bonds — often called the premium — for school improvement projects. While having the ability to to fund school projects is a wonderful thing, it also comes with the weight of knowing we cannot meet all the needs across the district.

In June, the committee began discussions about our decision making process and how we wanted to prioritize projects. Over a series of meetings, we refined our approach, which culminated in a final rubric to assess each possible project.  Through creation of the rubric, the committee identified and determined scoring criteria in four main categories. These categories included life safety, equity, alignment with instructional priorities, and time sensitivity of the projects.

A guiding principle throughout the committee’s discussions was a commitment to equity. We wanted to look beyond just cost and impact—our greatest consideration was our students, families, and community members. We utilized an equity index, which uses multiple measures—including poverty rates and the population of students with special needs—to identify schools that serve more disadvantaged populations. The use of the index allowed us to carefully consider every student that would benefit from a proposed project.

As a citizen committee, it was important for us to hear from teachers, students and school staff. We invited 56 schools with a project on the potential premium list to join us in a public comment session. In December, 18 schools, many supported by students, answered the call and presented projects to the committee. It was a powerful moment for the committee to hear from so many voices across the district with such thoughtful proposals.

For all of us on the committee, the final decision on premium fund allocation was a difficult one. We know that there are needs across the district we are unable to meet, but we are excited to provide $45.8 million in funding for 45 projects — many of which impact multiple schools through center-based programs.

Because of the time, effort and collaboration between DPS staff and the BOC, and the valuable insight provided by families, students and teachers during this process, we are confident the projects approved are a representation of the thoughtful approach we created to build equity into our decisions, which ensures we are reaching marginalized and disadvantaged schools. The distribution of premium funds address the most critical facility maintenance needs in the district, ensuring staff are able to deliver culturally responsive education to our students. Each of these projects improves the daily learning environments of our students and we are appreciative that the Board has approved these valuable investments.

You can view the full list of recommendations in our presentation to the board.