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District 27J's chances at November ballot a top topic at joint Brighton-Commerce City meeting

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By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — Officials from School District 27J talked about the next steps they will be taking to ensure a recommended ballot measure would be successful in November during a joint meeting with the school board and Brighton and Commerce City councils on April 29.

Superintendent Chris Fiedler said the district has not successfully passed a bond in the past eight years and that the district has a growth issue. He said more than 16,000 students are enrolled in the district this year and projections estimate enrollment will reach 17,000 students next fall and in excess of 30,000 students by 2030.

“The QSI committee did make a recommendation to me last Thursday night. It was a unanimous recommendation to pursue a bond and mill (levy override),” he said, adding that he will “stew on that” and make a recommendation to the board sometime in August.

Chief Operations Officer Terry Lucero said that 57 percent of voters polled in April said they were willing to support a $150-million bond and $75-million mill levy override. He explained the revenues from the bond would be used to build new schools and tackle capital repairs at existing district and charter schools, while the mill levy override funds would be used to staff and provide technology to those schools. Together the bond and mill levy override would cost homeowners about $135 per $100,000 of taxable property.

Lucero also said that whether a bond measure is successful also depends on having a plan that makes sense and whether voters trust 27J to carry out the plan. 

“Right now, we’re working on the plan, improving the credibility of the plan, working with architects, working with contractors so that if we are successful, we can deliver all of those projects,” he said. “The other thing that we have to be cognizant of is what happens if we are not successful?”

He added that administrators are in the process of creating a plan that will communicate very clearly what will happen in the fall of 2015 if a bond measure isn’t successful. Although the plan isn’t complete, he said administrators know it will be a combination of schedule changes, possibly split schedules or even year-round school. 

Fiedler said the district has already begun implementing unprecedented measures to address growth issues, one of which was closing open enrollment at multiple schools.

“We’ve made no exceptions despite the number of phone calls and, in some cases, tear-filled conversations I’ve had with parents around their kids not being able to be taken in the district,” he said. 

The other adjustment Fiedler said the district had to make is putting 400 freshmen from Brighton High School in the first floor of Brighton Heritage Academy in the fall.  Fiedler explained these kind of changes will become routine if the ballot measures don’t pass. The district’s “Plan B” would only work as a short-term solution and ballot measures will have to pass to address the issue of growth in the future.

“We know that if we were to transition to year-round schools, that buys us about 36 months, three years, before we’d have capacity issues again,” he said. “The amount of work, energy, distraction that that would cause concerns me about students’ achievement.

Lucero said the big challenge now is figuring out how to win the election. He said in years past, staff have probably played too large of a role.

“This is not a School District 27J staff issue, this is a community issue. This is about how we see our community, and so it’s not our job – we’re going to help, we’re going to be there to provide all the resources – but it’s going to be up to the community to go out and get this election passed,” he said.

He said the district is revitalizing its Parents and Community for 27J committee, which is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. May 7 at Overland Trail Middle School. Commerce City Councilman and QSI committee member Jason McEldowney invited members of the board and city councils to attend the meeting and bring some ideas with them. 

IN OTHER BUSINESS

• Brighton City Manager Manuel Esquibel and Youth Services Manager Tawnya Russell made a presentation on community schools.

Brighton is willing to hire and create a space for a community schools coordinator to work. School District 27J has a need for such a resource, especially for parents and students at North and South elementary schools, where poverty levels tend to be higher. The city is expecting to hire the coordinator in July, and the coordinator will begin putting a task force together and inventorying community resources.

• Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford told the group about an education commission the city would like to put together to with School District 27J and Adams 14. Commerce City would like the committee to be comprised of two council members — Jason McEldowney and Andrew Amador — and two representatives from the 27J and Adams 14 boards of education and from staff.

The commission would aim to foster relationships with each other to understand the needs of the districts and be able to grow together. He said the Commerce City council has already approved the creation of the committee and that they would like to address the 27J school board during a future meeting.