Denver’s 2020 ballot measures: The one about money for DPS teacher raises and increasing minimum wage

Ballot measure 4A asks whether you want to increase property taxes to raise money for things like teacher and staff salaries.
3 min. read
Alma Navarro (left) and Janet Alas work inside a DPS bus full of food and parked outside of Schmitt Elementary School in Ruby Hill. May 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Two complementary ballot measures aim to raise money for Denver Public Schools. "Debt Free Schools," or 4A, would raise $32 million through an increase on property taxes.

District Deputy Superintendent of Operations Mark Ferrandino said the money would be used for things like cost-of-living raises for teachers and increasing minimum-wage pay for school-support staff. It would also help hire mental health clinicians, school counselors and school nurses. Some pay had to be frozen or decreased because of cuts from the state due to the pandemic, so this increase would help restore some of that.

Tracie Rainey, executive director at the nonprofit and nonpartisan Colorado School Finance Project, said raising property taxes is one way school districts are able to retain and pay teachers and offer programs that they wouldn't be able to otherwise. This is money that supplements money the district gets from the state. A spokesperson for the district said districts can only raise operational money for schools through mill levy increases, while money for capitol projects has to be raised through bonds.

The measure was forwarded onto the ballot by the Denver school board in August. It includes recommendations from a 75-member committee including teachers, parents and students who met over a five-month period.

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What the ballot actually says: It's pretty long; if you want to read the full measure, click here.

What the ballot actually means: You're being asked whether you want to raise $32 million by increasing property taxes in the city in 2021. This would pay for raises for teachers, raises for school support staff and adding more mental health clinicians, counselors and school nurses, the latter to help with COVID-19 monitoring. A spokesperson for the district said they don't yet know how many more mental health clinicians, counselors and school nurses will be hired.

The increase would mean about $4 more a month for a typical residential property owner in Denver, according to a presentation from DPS. The example DPS provided is a home costing $465,000 would pay $51 more annually, or $4.25 more per month, in property taxes set by the 1.55 mill levy increase in this ballot measure.

Who supports it: The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union representing DPS teachers, endorses the measure, as do Denver Democrats.

Who's against it: The Denver Republican Party is against it. Party Chairwoman Kristina Cook said in a statement the economic impact caused by the pandemic means the party doesn't think this is a year to increase taxes. She added that DPS already benefits from increased property values in the city without having to increase taxes.

Check out our comprehensive voting guide here. Happy voting!

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