Both a bond and mill levy are types of funding drawn from property taxes to support public projects and services. Denver Public Schools (DPS) is one of the public entities that has the ability ask voters for funding through property taxes increases. A portion of Denver residents’ property taxes go into a state fund that supports education in Denver and across the state. Another portion of property taxes are for bonds and mill levy overrides that fund only projects and services in Denver.
Bonds are one-time investments in capital projects such building classrooms, buying technology and security equipment. Bond funds help renovate older schools to update them for 21st-century learning, build brand-new school buildings and buy additional educational technology.
A mill levy funds ongoing operational needs such as teachers, software, enrichments, and social-emotional supports.
A bond funds the building of schools and classrooms and the mill levy brings the classrooms to life.
Colorado ranks near the bottom of the country in education funding – at 42 out of 50 states. Colorado spends around $2,000 less per pupil than the national average.
A Bond and a Mill Levy are unique opportunities to improve student environment and learning experience. Given this unique opportunity, the Board of Education seeks to place our community – parents, teachers, students and community members – in the role of developing these recommendations. The CPAC is made up of a group of 60-75 community members who meet regularly in order to develop the bond and mill levy package that eventually go to the board and then to voters.
In general, bond projects are awarded based on school need. The facilities team conducts in-depth facility analyses and prioritizes projects throughout the district. What this means is that every school will not receive the same amount of investment, but rather the schools with the greatest facility needs will receive larger investment.
All DPS students have benefitted in some way from the 2016 mill levy, which also targets funds to our neediest students. In considering two similar schools – one with 40% students living in poverty and another with 80% students in poverty – the latter school would receive approximately 50% additional funding.
DPS does not get a significant amount of funding from marijuana taxes. Since marijuana was legalized in 2014, DPS has received no funding from state marijuana taxes.
However, the City of Denver collects taxes on marijuana sales, and some of those funds go towards youth marijuana prevention and education. DPS receives about $1 per student from these sources to provide after-school and summer programs.
There are individual citizen oversight committees, appointed by the superintendent and the school board for both the 2016 bond and mill levy. The Bond Oversight Committee ensures accountability for delivering projects scope and transparency around bond financial management. The Mill Levy Oversight Committee ensures that mill levy funds are spent as originally intended and represented to the voters and tracks expenditures through an accountability system.
A bond invests in classrooms. Bond funds help renovate older schools to update them for 21st-century learning, build brand-new school buildings and buy additional educational technology. A bond can invest in building upgrades such as critical maintenance, sustainability or cooling.
If approved, the 2020 bond proposal will require an increase in the district’s bond debt but is not expected to raise property taxes based on current and forecasted property values.
The 2016 bond package did not increase the tax rate. This is because Denver total property value continues to rise with the influx of new residents and new buildings. DPS has also been a good steward of prior bond issues, refinancing in low-interest environment.
The 2016 bond is investing $108 million toward upgrading learning spaces at our older facilities. This includes a flexible award to 161 schools/programs averaging $90,000 to make targeted improvements such as new, personalized furniture or upgrading classroom painting and flooring. For these awards, schools will have flexibility to work with their school communities and target the funds to meet their needs. For example, a school could choose to concentrate the money to update the school library or auditorium.
This investment also includes upgrading learning environments at our older facilities, including focused investments at our large “baby boomer”-era secondary facilities that have received minimal visible updates or remodels in recent decades. This includes Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson high schools.
Additionally, $30 million has been allocated to education suitability investments, to address priority programmatic gaps. Through these funds, schools without key facility elements such as indoor or outdoor play spaces or science labs are receiving receiving upgrades.
From the 2016 bond, $142 million will be invested in constructing new schools and creating additions to existing schools to support the projected 4,000-student enrollment increase by 2020.
This includes expanding a campus and building a new campus in Far Northeast Denver to address elementary, middle and high school enrollment needs, adding over 1400 new seats. Funds will also create an early childhood center at Place Bridge Academy and expand five proven programs that need capacity by a total of 500 seats – at GALS, Montclair Elementary, Denver Language School, Conservatory Green Campus and Slavens Elementary. Ultimately, these investments will add around 2,500 seats to ensure students will have a seat at their neighborhood school.
The largest component of the 2016 bond is $252 million for maintaining facilities, including funding for critical maintenance items that are necessary for the safe operation of schools. Approximately half of DPS facilities were built before 1969; the oldest buildings are also the largest, encompassing about 2/3 of the district’s total square feet. Critical maintenance projects include repairs and replacements for heating, plumbing, roofing and electrical.
The investment includes funding for classroom cooling in the 18 hottest schools. Beyond the 18 hottest schools, the amount of money a school receives will be based on what a school needs to achieve full, automated night-time air exchange – which brings in cool evening air and vents out hot air – identified as the most effective cooling investment.
This investment has gone toward repairing and replacing school roofs and strengthening brick, mortar and exterior doors. Funding has also converted all DPS buildings to LED lighting.
$70 million has been invested in increase student technology access, which significantly boosts the number of schools offering one device per student, as well as the number of schools allowing students to take a device home.
The bond includes $100 per student for the purchase of new educational technology devices and an additional $50 per student later in the bond for device replacement. There are funds set aside to bring approximately 7,000 high school students one device per student to take home. These investments have more than doubled the schools able to provide a technology device for every student, from 34 to 77, while providing flexible funds to allow schools to replace outdated devices.
Updates in technology infrastructure will also allow DPS to provide unlimited wireless bandwidth for schools while reducing costs.
The bond includes critical systems and infrastructure to support student safety. This includes an investment in upgrading door locks and intercom and alarm system upgrades to streamline school safety procedures.
The new door locks include an interior push-button function, allowing students or teachers to lock a room without having to find a key or go outside the classroom. These safety updates will align with a code requirement from the Colorado Division of Fire and Prevention Control.
Additional safety investments will be made to update security camera and door entry systems at various schools throughout the district.
We plan to invest $26 million in sustainability, such as converting the entire district to LED lighting. The LED lighting conversion improves classroom visibility and has the benefit of reducing classroom temperatures and reducing utility costs by approximately $1 million a year.
Additionally, the heating and heat mitigation investment include the repair or installation of building controls; these controls help to regulate building temperature and save money.
A mill levy funds ongoing operational needs such as teachers, software, enrichments, and social-emotional supports.
If approved, the Debt-Free Schools ballot initiative (mill levy), is expected to cost about $4.25 per month or $51 annually for owners of a Denver home valued at the median $465,000.
DPS believes strongly in school flexibility and school-based decision making. The emphasis on flexibility is intended to place decision-making squarely at the school level, closest to those who know their students, families, teachers, support staff and communities best. In general, schools have flexibility with mill levy funds to make investments that are best suited for their community’s needs.
There will, however, be guidelines for how a school may use the funds and accountability mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the funds are spent in a way that is aligned with voter intent. As with previous mill levies, an independent oversight committee will assess whether these dollars are being spent in alignment with what voters have approved. Flexibility is provided in the details of each area below.
Teachers, parents and students have all indicated that additional supports in social-emotional health are critical for student success.
Every school in DPS received a per-pupil allocation from the 2016 mill levy (approximately $15 million in total). Schools are able to target this flexible funding based on their students’ whole child needs; for example, schools may decide to increase their time with a school psychologist or social worker; schools may alternatively decide to work with a community partner to address the whole child needs of their school community differently.
Further, these fund expands learning opportunities outside of the classroom – such as extending the DPS Summer Academy – from five to eight weeks and from half-day to full-day programming. The expansion to full-day programs will allow community providers to introduce more enrichment opportunities similar to those at a traditional summer camp. It will also add sibling slots in summer programs to ensure families are learning together in one place. Student engagement over the summer is crucial to student growth and achievement. Students who attend a summer program are less likely to experience summer learning loss – the phenomenon where students lose academic skills over the summer. Summer learning loss is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate.
$6.8 million of the 2016 mill levy focused on ensuring that all students are reading on or above grade level by third grade. Research shows that students who hit this benchmark are four times more likely to graduate than students who don’t.
A significant portion of these funds provides training to all teachers in grades ECE-3 in the science of teaching literacy. Additionally, we have heard from teachers locally and from best-practice research nationwide that more time for teachers to plan and collaborate during the year is a key enabler of change. Most of the training funds will be targeted toward increasing during-the-school-year planning and collaboration time; schools will be able to decide how to best utilize that time.
Finally, this investment in early literacy includes $2 million to increase access to evidence-based tutoring supports among our most struggling young readers. These students will receive additional reading help during the school day so they can catch up to grade level.
$8 million from the 2016 mill levy has been invested in real-world college and career readiness opportunities such as DPS CareerConnect and Dual Enrollment. This investment expands current successful initiatives and programs that provide opportunities for students to truly be prepared for life after DPS.
DPS CareerConnect offers students relevant courses while connecting them with partner companies and colleges for hands-on workplace experiences and mentoring. The program equips graduates with high-demand skills and leads to opportunities for continued education and careers in Colorado’s high-growth and high-opportunity industries. Students in the CareerConnect program are 30 percent more likely to graduate than their peers across all high schools and demographic groups.
Dual Enrollment provides the opportunity for students to simultaneously take college courses while attending high school, and to receive credit for both. State-wide, dual enrollment students are more likely to enroll in college immediately following graduation, and once there, dual enrollment students are more likely to have a higher first-year college GPA than their peers. Additionally, DPS dual enrollment students lower their future student loan debt by an estimated $487.50 for each three-credit hour course they successfully complete.
$14.5 million of the 2016 mill levy has been invested in ensuring our students have the strongest, most talented teachers in their classrooms and leaders in their schools. The funds support programs such as Teacher Leadership and Collaboration (TLC), a leadership model that allows our best teachers to coach and grow other teachers in their schools while staying true to their first love, teaching their own classroom of kids. In the most recent DPS all-staff survey, at least 90% of teachers participating in the TLC model say their teacher leader creates an environment that fosters passion for learning in students, leads efforts to support teachers in the use of academic standards and ensures they receive feedback and coaching that improves their job performance. Funds would ensure TLC is implemented in the remaining 83 schools without the program and sustain the model going forward.
The investment also includes an expansion of the DPS Paraprofessional-to-Teacher Training Program in effort to diversify our DPS workforce and grow the talent that already exists in our community. Approximately 65% of our paraprofessional teams are educators of color. These professionals are experienced in working with our students, have developed cultural competencies and are often bilingual. The investment would create financial incentives for approximately 20 to 40 additional paraprofessionals to take part in the program each year and to ultimately transition their roles from paraprofessionals to teachers.
$4.9 million of the 2016 mill levy has been invested in ensuring our students have high quality environments in which to learn. Funds will support preventative, proactive, deferred and predictive maintenance in Denver classrooms. The investment will create cleaner and more comfortable learning spaces for our students and teachers.
In recent years, enrollment has grown by 11 percent and facility square footage has grown by 9 percent, while the facility-maintenance budget has decreased by 5 percent due to resource constraints. Classroom upgrades would be provided directly to schools on a per-student basis and school communities would have flexibility to prioritize different learning environment upgrades based on their students’ unique needs.
$6.6 million of the 2016 mill levy has been invested to ensure students have the tools to prepare them for the 21st century. This investment, with a coordinated bond investment, more than doubles the schools able to provide a technology device for every student, while providing flexible funds to allow schools to replace outdated devices.
This investment also provides funding for e-books and additional digital resources for students and educators. It would expand the capacity of DPS teachers to deliver digitally-enabled lessons through coaching and support.
Funds can be used on student or teacher devices or school tech support as well as a device replacement budget of $50 per student in future years.