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D-11 voters pass tax increase for Colorado Springs' largest school district - finally

November 7, 2017 Updated: November 8, 2017 at 8:24 am
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photo - Lauren Hug, Anthony Carlson, Shawn Gullixson, Carley Cribbs and Mary Coleman, from left to right, show their emotions of happiness alongside Teresa Null, front, as they celebrate the passing of 3E by 56% to 44% on the voting ballot at SoccerHaus on Tuesday November 7, 2017 in Colorado Springs. Voters who approved the 3E ballot measures to significantly increase funding for K-12 schools in the D-11 schools. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
Lauren Hug, Anthony Carlson, Shawn Gullixson, Carley Cribbs and Mary Coleman, from left to right, show their emotions of happiness alongside Teresa Null, front, as they celebrate the passing of 3E by 56% to 44% on the voting ballot at SoccerHaus on Tuesday November 7, 2017 in Colorado Springs. Voters who approved the 3E ballot measures to significantly increase funding for K-12 schools in the D-11 schools. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

A collective sigh of relief accompanied boisterous cheers that erupted from Colorado Springs School District 11 supporters Tuesday night.

After raising $517,000 in campaign contributions and recruiting 500 volunteers to knock on 30,000 doors, D-11 succeeded in gaining voter approval of a $42 million annual property tax increase, the first increase for the district in 17 years.

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"This is a game changer," Superintendent Nicholas Gledich said at a watch party that turned lively as results started coming in.

"The voters have created a legacy," he said. "Their dollars will make a difference in the lives of children."

Ballot Issue 3E was passing with 57 percent of the vote in unofficial results.

"This gives us a future for this district," said Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Springs Education Association, the teachers' union in D-11. "There's going to be a lot of happy teachers tomorrow."

The first action of business, Gledich said, will be to recruit residents to serve on an oversight committee that will ensure the dollars are spent as the mill levy override dictated.

D-11, the region's oldest and largest school district, with about 27,700 students, had a 34 percent voter turnout. The extra money will cost homeowners about $3.75 a month per $100,000 of property value.

The revenue will be spent on repairing and refurbishing school buildings, reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers, adding more security officers, improving technology, increasing staff salaries, hiring more mental health workers and making other improvements.

About $17.5 million of the annual collection will be spent on capital improvements at schools, such as new roofs, air conditioning and remodeling.

Another $13.5 million will be funneled to increase staff salaries, $4.5 million will add more school nurses and mental health staff, $1.75 million will reduce class sizes with additional teachers, $1 million will upgrade technology, $695,000 will pay for enhanced school security and technology, and $3 million will benefit charter schools.

Vick said he appreciates voters - 80 percent of whom do not have children or grandchildren attending schools in D-11 - giving the district a chance.

"One side says resources make a difference, the other side says they don't," he said. "We'll see."

Also, incumbents Shawn Gullixson, Jim Mason and Mary Coleman retained their seats on the seven-member board of education.

The fourth open seat went to Julie Ott, a parent and longtime community volunteer who supports prudent spending, supporting teachers, classroom improvements and addressing mental health needs of students.

"The funding will allow us to take the next steps as a district," Gullixson said. "We have a lot of gaps, and now the board and the administration needs to go to work and get the district going in the right direction."

D-11 failed in 2016 to gain voter approval for both a $32.6 million property tax increase and a $235 million bond issue.

On a side note, D-11 recently lost a complaint filed by Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights author Douglas Bruce and former Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Helen Collins, alleging the district violated campaign finance laws.

An administrative law judge ruled Friday that a card urging voters to support the tax increase violated Colorado's Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Gledich was ordered to repay the district $267.85 for the cost of campaign cards one day after the ballot issue had been sent to the board to have the title fixed.

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