Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument ties for having the highest graduation rate in the Pikes Peak region, ranks third best among 178 Colorado districts by ratings and review company Niche, and unfalteringly earns the state’s top “Accredited with Distinction” title.
But the high-achieving district is one of the few in the area that has not passed a ballot financing measure in more than a decade.
Tuesday’s 55% defeat of a $28.985 million bond proposal to build a new elementary school represented a smaller margin of loss than last year, when a similar measure failed by two-thirds of the vote.
Ironically, D-38 board President Matthew Clawson, who wrote the resolution for this year’s bond resolution, won reelection against opponent Adam Cupp, who did not support the bond measure. Another candidate who did not favor the measure, Ryan Graham, also lost his bid for a seat.
Bond critics point to problems with public trust, district transparency and the plan itself as contributing to its downfall this year.
“We’re an affluent community, we can afford to have our taxes go up a little bit, but just be honest with us. We’re tired of being ripped off, of being lied to. It’s disingenuous,” said outspoken naysayer Derek Araje, a D-38 voter.
“I will fight every bond that’s not the most cost-effective and fiscally responsible bond.”
A lack of information on the bond’s impact on taxpayers, questions about the interest on repayment, people who were for the bond contributing to the “con” statement in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights guide and whether the strategy would actually solve the district’s crowding problems were factors in Araje’s decision to campaign against the bond initiative.
“It was a horrible plan,” he said.
D-38 board treasurer Chris Taylor said he thinks the measure failed because of “the fact that we did not communicate the merits of 4A well enough to the broader community.”
He also believes some voters may not have fully understood the proposal, particularly that the numbers about impacts and repayments were estimates, due to market fluctuations.
“What we did as a board was to try to make this as conservative as possible and in our ballot language said the only use of bond proceeds would be to build and furnish a new elementary school in Jackson Creek,” Taylor said.
Financial estimates changed from May to September from a premium of $3 million to a premium of $6 million, he said.
“What that means practically is we would have issued less bonds,” Taylor said. “We would have never issued more than was necessary to build and furnish an elementary school. There was a lot of noise around that.”
The last time D-38 voters approved a bond issue was 2006. The $57 million initiative built Palmer Ridge High School and made improvements to Lewis-Palmer High School.
This year's defeat was not for lack of trying on the part of supporters.
Monument dad of four Darin Lewandowski ran 100 miles last Saturday on a trail near Monument Hill, where it was cold and windy.
His weekend warrior feat was not to raise money but to raise awareness that D-38 desperately needs to do something besides adding more modular classrooms to alleviate crowded classrooms.
If the measure had passed, D-38 would not only have built a new elementary school but also would have used district funds to convert an existing elementary school back to a middle school.
“This is important as a community,” Lewandowski said. “We need to come together and provide our students the best possible learning environment. My run was about a very important issue we need to get resolved.”
It took Lewandowski 28 hours and 40 minutes to run 100 miles around a loop near Monument Hill. People stopped by with food and hot drinks and encouragement for his effort.
“I’m very disappointed at the outcome (of the vote),” he said. “They’re scrambling for how to best utilize whatever space they have. It just seems to make sense. Some of it seems to be based on old grudges.”
The D-38 board and administration intend to develop a “long-term strategic plan for a sustainable school district,” Taylor said.
“It’s one of the things that historically hasn’t existed,” he said, “and based on that work, we’re going to do things differently.
“We’ll have more community involvement in this development and creation and finalization of that plan, so there’s more community buy-in.”