The ideological future of school districts 11 and 49 may be at stake this November.
But that's not all.
The school boards of both districts will ask voters to raise limits on property taxes in order to pay for new school buildings and repairs to dilapidated ones.
"We can't catch up," says Glenn Gustafson, District 11's chief financial officer, of the district's chase to pay for rising capital costs.
In D-11, which stretches across Colorado Springs' old city core, administrators face at least a $127 million repair and construction backlog.
Last year, voters approved bonds for $131 million in repairs to crumbling schools, the construction of two new elementary schools and a major expansion of Doherty High School.
But on a separate ballot question, they didn't approve increasing property taxes to pay for the bonds. This year the seven-member school board, in a 6-0 vote, decided to go back to the voters for the money.
If inner-city schools begin to falter, Gustafson says, entire neighborhoods can slide into decline.
"We saw the failure of New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles," he says, referring to increases in poverty associated with declining school districts in those cities. "We saw a huge connection between the school system and the city."
Gustafson also points to Denver and its public school district, which he says was the envy of other school districts 40 years ago but now must provide 66 percent of its students with free or reduced-price lunch. District 11 now subsidizes 35 percent of students' lunches, but that number could soar if affluent families flee the district because of crumbling schools.
In District 49, a rapidly growing school district in northeast Colorado Springs, some classrooms are packed 50 percent above capacity. Voters will be asked to allow $7.5 million a year in extra property taxes for the next 25 years, capping spending at $156 million, mostly to build new schools.
In D-11, where voters last raised property taxes in 2000, the tax increase could amount to around $64 a year for a home worth $200,000. In D-49, where a similar measure failed at the ballot box last year by a 1 percent margin, it could cost up to $156 a year for a home of the same value.
-- Dan Wilcock
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