On Tuesday, November 2, Colorado Springs voters will take to the polls to decide on several key funding issues and to elect school board members. Based on our research and coverage of key issues, as well as interviews with D-11 and D-20 school board candidates, we offer the following endorsements:
Referendum A: State debt increase to implement construction of major statewide road projects: YES
This measure will allow Colorado to borrow $1.7 billion to speed up the completion dates on 24 top-priority highway projects. The money, borrowed against anticipated future federal gas tax revenues, would be paid back with $600 million in interest, less than the current interest rates for construction costs.
Colorado Springs will benefit under this proposal, but not immediately -- the three local highway projects that this measure would speed up will only shave a few years off of the initial timeline for completion. But a drive to Denver alone will show you just what a disaster our state's roads have become.
Our state's legislators and leaders should be ashamed that they have forced voters into the position of having to put Colorado in debt to build and fix highways. They should also be ashamed that they have not used the state's booming economy as a time to invest, with voter approval, excess revenues on these kinds of projects. When it comes down to it, we believe that most fiscal conservatives would prefer to pay for roads with the extra money generated by the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights than by putting the state in such massive debt.
We applaud Gov. Bill Owens for his newfound commitment to light rail along Denver Metro's southeast corridor, which he has endorsed as a separate measure facing Denver area voters. But we are disappointed that alternative forms of transportation were not considered as part of his statewide package. We urge the governor and our legislators to broaden their minds to the concept of expanded alternative forms of transportation.
The answer to clogged roads is not just bigger, wider highways but light rail, high-speed rail and enhanced public transportation efforts. Such programs work very effectively in other parts of the country, and it's high time for Colorado to seriously consider them.
Question 1A, 1B, 1C: El Paso County Metro and Rural Transit Access Authority: YES, YES and YES
Currently 3 million people a year use Colorado Springs' public bus system. Yet the city and the county governments have not increased public transportation funding in nearly 30 years. In other words, while El Paso County has swelled from a town of 236,000 residents to a metropolis of 500,000, the bus service has remained constant. No new routes have been added and no additional buses run. It's astonishing that -- at the brink of the 21st Century -- there is no night service or buses that run on Sundays.
Public transit is most used by our neediest citizens -- and they need better bus service. With better transportation options, the transit-dependent will have better access to their jobs, family, places of worship, medical facilities and recreational opportunities. We want to congratulate county commissioners and members of the City Council -- and its broad-based citizens' task force -- for actually working together for a change to come up with a modest, workable proposal. Our only reservation is that it doesn't go nearly far enough in truly solving the area's serious traffic and public transportation woes. But it's a good start.
Question 2A: Sales Tax Increase for Zoo: NO
We all love animals. But this .05 percent sales tax increase is an unnecessary frill at a time when this community is strapped for cash to pay for basic services, including police, fire and crumbling infrastructure.
Popularity at the zoo is at an all time high. In recent years, membership has tripled, and attendance and operating revenues have shot increased dramatically. We understand the zoo's desire to raise money for much-needed upgrades and to implement a $50 million master plan to modernize facilities.
However, in the past, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, a privately-owned non-profit institution, has demonstrated laudable fund-raising ability both in the public and private sectors. In the past decade, the zoo has been able to raise $10 million in private resources. There is every reason to believe that, particularly with its newfound popularity, the zoo will be able to continue to raise money from private sector sources to pay for its improvements.
Colorado Springs 2B: Fire and police collective bargaining: YES
Do you want the fire and police personnel who come to your aid in an emergency to be the best Colorado can offer? If you answered 'yes,' then you should vote for 2B, which would give police and fire fighters the power to collectively negotiate pay and benefit issues with the city. The measure would not create police and fire unions, nor would it allow public safety workers to strike. But it would give cops and firefighters the ability to bring in a neutral third party to settle disputes, should the city and its police and fire forces reach an impasse.
The measure would allow for arbitration over contract negotiations -- that is, a mutually greed upon third party would come in, both sides would present their cases with the arbiter there, and the arbiter would decide the outcome, a binding agreement.
Critics say binding arbitration would take power away from the elected city council. But the fact is that the elected city council in recent years has allowed some of the lowest pay rates on the Front Range for police and fire personnel, driving away some of the area's brightest rookies (trained at city expense) as well as experienced personnel. This measure would simply give our men and women in uniform a chance to keep city councilors' toes to the fire when it comes to prioritizing the public's well being.
Question 2G: Cable Franchise Fee and Agreement: NO
Unlike cities all over the country, Colorado Springs does not collect a fee from the local cable provider in exchange for access to its public right of ways.
That's a nice deal for the cable company, which has, over the past three years, raised rates by 30 percent. But it's not so sweet for the city, which allows the cable company free access to the city's publicly-owned roads and sidewalks in order to lay cable line. Colorado Springs should collect a fee from the cable company which can be used for specific general operating purposes.
But this particular deal is an embarrassment. First, the city assigned the negotiation between themselves and the cable company to a manager with no expertise -- and without giving him any money to hire a knowledgeable consultant. Then, it allowed a third party -- the Southern Colorado Educational Television Consortium -- to play an active partner in the discussions, and to bring their $100,000 lobbyist to the table. Then, city staff refused to allow the city council's own appointed citizens advisory committee to be included in the talks.
A sound cable franchise agreement should benefit all the city's citizens and all cable subscribers, and should include enough flexibility to re-visit issues of changing technology. We should re-visit this issue on the November 2000 ballot.
Question 3J: Colorado Springs School District 11 mill levy increase: NO
There's absolutely no question that our public schools need more money. A decade ago, Colorado ranked 18th in state support for public schools. Today we rank somewhere between 35th and 49th in state support of public education, depending on which formula is used to make comparisons. Our state lawmakers' refusal to make education a priority and to demand adequate financing for schools is nothing short of disgraceful.
But as much as we want to support this year's D-11 funding measure, we just can't. While some of the funds would eventually go to needed student programs, such as reducing class size and expanding full-day kindergarten, far too much money is earmarked immediately for ill-defined computer and technology programs that even many teachers do not want. In addition, we abhor the administrators' promise to boost test scores by 15 percent or have schools lose money. Such misguided initiatives -- code word: "performance based" standards -- will only force teachers to teach the limited content of what standardized multiple-choice tests can measure.
Our decision to oppose this measure is heart-wrenching. But our school-aged children deserve better. We urge the district to come back in November, 2000 with a better thought out proposal that focuses more on class size reductions and more accurately reflects the needs and desires of students and teachers.
Question 3H: Academy School District 20 mill levy override: YES
Earlier this year, Academy School District 20 found itself in an unexpected financial nightmare. Due to what could be best be described as incompetent bungling by administrators, the district found it had overspent its budget. As a result, planned student programs screeched to a halt, throwing parents and students into a tailspin of uncertainty.
The superintendent, Don Fielder, has since left the district, as has its former chief financial officer. We abhor the fact that the former superintendent received a severance package despite his bungling. But withholding money at this time would only further punish Academy district students. We urge a yes vote.
School Board Candidates
Doyle is a class act. Currently the president of the D-11 School Board, Doyle's vast knowledge of the system is a tremendous asset. Years of studying school finance, learning the intricacies of state and federal mandates and helping to watch over the administration of the state's fourth largest school district make him a great choice. His emphasis -- on reducing class sizes, improving student achievement and insisting on equal opportunities for all kids -- is on target. Doyle is widely respected, as evidenced by his current role as the president of the Colorado Association of School Boards. Most important, it's obvious he loves kids and believes everyone can learn. He deserves your vote.
Like Doyle, Kaiser is a longtime respected achool board member. The thoughtful retired Air Force colonel's emphasis is on educational accountability and responsibility, including from administrators, teachers, board members, parents and students. Kaiser says he's proud of many of the district's accomplishments since he's been in office, including the ongoing implementation of student technology programs. But, he says, the district isn't there yet. The current board, he says, has focused on better long range planning efforts. That kind of foresight makes for high quality education and academic excellence. Kaiser deserves your support.
There are four open seats on the D-11 board. While we could not wholeheartedly endorse any other candidates in D-11, we feel that two are deserving of serious consideration.
Bill Jambura: The state of public education must be bad when The Independent finds itself on the same page as former D-22 religious right stealth candidate Dave Schultheis and hyperconservative state Board of Education member John Barnett (who said last week he doesn't care if Colorado drops from 49th to dead last in public school funding). Both also support Jambura's candidacy.
But Jambura is a breath of fresh air, brimming with common sense ideas -- like principals should be free to build their own teams (including hiring and firing their own teachers). Jambura's notion that each building should have more autonomy and the freedom to abandon failed policy is refreshing and a good move away from centralized control. He uses the term "crystallized bureaucracy" to describe what he believes is a top-heavy administration. He believes we owe kids a good basic education, which they are currently not receiving. His perception -- that the current board has been too complacent and that district administrators too often get rubber stamped proposals -- is widely shared by members of the public.
Jambura is a firebrand. He uses conservative code words like "secular worship," "back to basics," and supports vouchers as "simply a celebration in diversity." But we believe his common sense is badly needed and his willingness to challenge the system is what District 11 needs.
Of the three other candidates, former Mitchell High School Delia Armstrong-Busby has proven to be committed to students and unafraid to speak out against real and perceived injustices. Five years ago, Armstrong-Busby won a financial settlement from the district after it forced her out of her job, and this is her third bid for school board. During her tenure at Mitchell, Armstrong-Busby was the recipient of several awards for her innovation, and was widely recognized for her efforts to tackle the gang problem, a gutsy and controversial step at the time. Yet, she was also criticized by teachers at the school for her domineering style and refusal to work as a team player. We admire Armstrong-Busby, but are concerned about her potentially disruptive style if she's elected to the board. Nevertheless, her proven commitment to children, precisely those not succeeding in school, gives her our nod over the other candidates running.
After the devastating blow that Academy School District 20 suffered this year -- financial improprieties and a resulting turnover of top administrators, as well as a mass exodus of teachers -- the district needs to restore its credibility in a big way. Anderson would help to do that. The former board president served for 12 years, between 1983 and 1995 and knows the district well. A D-20 resident for more than 30 years, Anderson has watched from the trenches while the district grew from a small operation to the 16,909-student operation it is today. Anderson has the experience, she has the time and she has the respect to help right a district that will need a lot of nurturing to restore the public's confidence. She deserves your vote.
Gary Coulter is a college civil engineering and microbiology professor for Colorado State University. The retired Air Force officer also ran NASA's center for the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence in Washington for five years, making him particularly qualified to help run a school district.
And, Coulter is downright fervent with his approach to innovation and educational standards in public schools. He looks outside the box of tradition, a fresh approach in an era when changes in the status quo of education is imperative. Coulter exhibited this kind of new thinking with his Challenger Learning Center, a hands-on science program that is currently being implemented using grant money -- and with no cost to the district.
Coulter's positive attitude is refreshing. His creativity would be a bonus in a district that has been plagued with disillusion.