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First tax hike in 17 years revives Colorado Springs schools' fortunes

November 8, 2017 Updated: November 8, 2017 at 7:06 pm
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Darin Smith, Coronado High School principal, shakes hands with students at a signing ceremony for student athletes at the high school gym on Wednesday, November 8, 2017.

Coronado High School's gymnasium floor was installed the year Darin Smith was born. The original floor was there when he graduated from the school in 1990.

It hadn't been updated when he returned as a teacher, or by the time he became principal.

A $42 million annual property tax increase, the first increase for the district in 17 years, means the gym floor - finally - will be replaced, Smith said. Ballot Issue 3E, which will cost homeowners about $3.75 a month per $100,000 of property value, passed Tuesday with about 57 percent of the vote.

"This gym floor can not be sanded down one more centimeter. It needs to be replaced," Smith said. "That will be a big piece here at Coronado."

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.

When Smith found out the ballot issue had passed, he said he was "most excited" for the teachers, who work hard but are "so underpaid and undervalued." He hopes it will help the district retain top teaching talent.

"I always felt like our teachers would easily run to other districts because they could pay, and I feel like now, we're competitive," Smith said. "We want to compete all the way around, and that starts with teachers and with coaches. Of all the things you can spend money on, that would be the number one thing."

At Coronado, which opened in 1971, funding also will go toward heating and plumbing updates and other maintenance projects.

"We've been doing a Band-Aid approach to maintaining this facility for some time now, so this is going to be nice to get in and do it right and fix things," Smith said.

Facilities improvements will be key at other D-11 schools, too.

Maya Berry, a junior at Palmer High School, said many of the school's rooms don't have air conditioning. But she wasn't thinking of herself when she volunteered to knock on doors and make phone calls to campaign for the ballot issue. It was a local politics experience she enjoyed after working on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

"There's no way I did this campaign for myself," Berry said. She was thinking about future D-11 students like her 1-year old and 3-year old neighbors.

"They need to grow up in the best community that they can," she said, adding that the funding will encourage parents to send their kids to D-11 schools.

The district raised $517,000 in campaign contributions and recruited 500 volunteers to knock on 30,000 doors leading up to Election Day.

Stormie Wells, Coronado's head volleyball coach, said she appreciates that the school is able to retain top athletes who might otherwise "choice" out of district to schools with newer facilities or equipment. Many of her students have lived in-district their entire lives. As a 1992 Palmer High School grad, she was once one of them.

"We don't want them to leave the district," she said. "We have a lot to offer - a great experience."

Wells was "thrilled" to hear the ballot issue had passed.

Citywide voter turnout was 38.7 percent, with 153,597 ballots cast, the El Paso County Elections Department's website shows. More than a third - 57,567 people - voted on the ballot issue.

"The kids do a great job with what we've got, but to the extent that we're able to surround them with the best teachers we can get, and take care of our teachers and take care of our facilities, I think that that's a win for everybody," Wells said. "And it's a win for our communities. The better our schools do, the better our property values do, the more our communities thrive."

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Contact Ellie Mulder: 636-0198

Twitter: @lemarie

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