DENVER (CBS4) – Denver metro area voters showed their renewed support for public education in Tuesday’s election, passing a mill levy and bond issue in Denver and Cherry Creek School Districts, as well as a mill levy in Littleton Public Schools — measures school leaders say are more important than ever in the midst of a crippling pandemic.

“I’m just thrilled, and so incredibly grateful to the voters of Denver,” said Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova. “This is huge for us. I think it’s even more important at this specific moment in time, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

interview with Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova

CBS4’s Kati Weis interviews Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova. (credit: CBS)

In Denver, the 1.55 mills property tax increase will give the school district $32 million more in revenue. That extra funding will pay for compensation increases, full-time nurses, and mental health support for students, according to Cordova.

Voters also passed a $795 million bond measure, which will allow the school district to fund construction projects at Montbello High School, as well as the implementation of air conditioning units in outdated school buildings.

“It has become so evident how critical our schools are becoming to our community, both because of the impact of remote learning on our students, but also because of the importance I think we’re going to see in the future, to accelerate learning for kids, because of the interruptions we’ve had over the past nine months,” Cordova said.

Voters in the Cherry Creek School District also passed a property tax increase that will offset a $60 million budget shortfall due to lack of state funding during the pandemic.

The mill increase will cost a taxpayer owning a $500,000 home approximately $99 more a year.

“I feel like that’s affordable,” said Sandra Proch, a mom of two high school students at Smoky Hill High School. “If that’s going to give them the education they need, I absolutely agree with it.”

Proch, whose high school senior is struggling during remote learning, hopes the district will use the funds to give students more one-on-one time with teachers during the pandemic.

“My son, who had brain cancer, learns a different way now, and he needs that in-person learning versus remotely; as a senior in high school, he is very scared that he is not going to pass his senior year,” Proch said. “He is very scared and upset about what his future is going to look like.”

One teacher in CCSD wrote to CBS4, “It’s great that the district got their money, but if teachers don’t get rewarded for taking furlough days and working during Covid, I believe teachers will leave the profession in large numbers. The district must make amends.”

The superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but a spokesperson for the district provided a written statement to CBS4.

“(The ballot measures) will give the district critical funds needed to retain and recruit excellent teacher, keep a nurse in every school, build a mental health facility, and make improvements to schools,” the statement said.

The district’s written statement went on to explain how the money will be used:

Issue 4A, the budget override for operating expenses, will allow the district to:
• Deliver on our promise of excellence for every child, every day – even in the face of a pandemic;
• Recruit and retain the best teachers, and keep class sizes small to ensure student success;
• Continue the district’s commitment to having mental health workers in every school;
• Maintain a focus on health by keeping a registered nurse in every school;
• Ensure access to technology for all who need it so they can be successful in the classroom or through remote learning; and
• Decrease the impact of unprecedented budget cuts from the state.
The passage of 4B authorizes the district to sell $150 million in bonds for renovations and new school construction, including:
• Funding to build a mental health/day treatment center to support students;
• New intercom systems for schools, push-button deadbolt locks for all classroom doors and secure double vestibules at elementary and middle schools;
• Ensure all students have access to technology during any additional periods of Remote learning;
• Funding for every high school to renovate space to create innovative environments that transform learning;
• Providing technical equipment aligned with industry certifications and career and technical training for career preparation for students;
• Expand programming options and create new pathways for in-demand careers that drive Colorado’s economy at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus;
• Build a new elementary school in southeast Aurora to alleviate overcrowding in rapidly growing neighborhoods; and
• Additional funds that will be combined with 2016 bond dollars to provide a significant remodel to the Village East Elementary cafeteria space that can accommodate the school’s 700 students.
In Littleton Public Schools, voters also supported school funding. The passage of ballot measure 4C will give LPS $12 million more in funding, which the district says will fill the state funding gap created by the pandemic.

Littleton’s superintendent was also unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but wrote in a written statement, “this was a particularly difficult time to ask our community to support a mill levy override, and we never take the decision to do so lightly… we are extremely grateful for the support of the LPS community in passing 4C.”

For more information on how LPS plans to use the new revenue, visit littletonpublicschools.net.

Kati Weis