Jeffco school issue campaign counters ballot-book ‘satire’

By Jon Lloyd
SPECIAL TO THE COLORADO STATESMAN

On Saturday, Mary Tedford and hundreds of other volunteers will be walking door to door in Jefferson County, asking neighbors to approve two Jefferson County Schools ballot issues.

Tedford, whose daughter is a sophomore at nearby Columbine High School, thinks she has everything she needs for the mission — including a ready response for voters who were confused or perplexed by what they read about ballot issues 3A and 3B in the election booklets that recently arrived in their mailboxes.

Public comment must be included in the booklet without any substantial change in the citizen’s meaning, according to state law under TABOR, the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

“Senior citizens with fixed incomes are hard-pressed to shoulder increases in property tax,” wrote Thomas Graham.

Graham, a 79-year-old Arvada resident, says his ballot-book essays on 3A and 3B are “satire.”

“These people should recognize that their reduced productivity calls for them to be replaced by the youth of our nation,” he wrote.

“This tax increase furthers the goals of our teacher unions,” Graham continued. “It is consistent with a presidential candidate’s promise for change and hope for progress toward the socialist utopia through education.”

On Monday, school district and campaign officials demanded an apology, calling Graham’s statements misleading because they are “con” statements disguised as being “pro,” and are “hurtful and cruel” to seniors.

In an interview, Graham said he would not issue an apology.

“Certainly not,” he said. “I’m asking for an apology from them.”

Tedford says her confidence was bolstered by a briefing conducted by Citizens for Jeffco Schools, the organization behind the campaign in favor of 3A and 3B.

“If anyone has in-depth questions that the layman can’t answer, we’ll take their name and phone number and call them back,” Tedford said.

Lesley Dahlkemper, co-chair of Citizens for Jeffco Schools, says her organization is doing its best to get the word out.

“Our goal is to win the campaign,” she said, noting that in addition to Saturday’s precinct walk, “We have 14,000 yard signs out. We’re phone banking, calling voters and telling voters what it means to us.”

“Good schools means good property values,” Dahlkemper said.

Proposal 3A asks voters to approve a 4.4 mill levy increase that would give the school district as much as $34 million for district operations. Property owners would pay an additional $2.92 a month on each $100,000 of their assessment.

If approved, 3B would give the district permission to seek $350 million in bonds for school construction projects. Property taxes would not go up because the income would replace current debt as it comes in.

In an interview, Graham, a semi-retired engineer who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, said his comments were “all factual except for one or two statements.”

Graham called the school district’s request for the 4.4 mill levy increase “outrageous. It’s the largest issue in the state. You can’t get specifics on what they would do with the money.”

He said the proposed improvements on school buildings, if the bond issue passes, are not necessary.

“They’re asking for money all the time,” he said. “They should tighten their belt. The opposition has no money and is not organized. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Graham says he “got lots of calls and e-mails complimenting me that I wrote this thing — some from former elected officials.”

“People will be hurt by more taxes, especially seniors on a fixed income,” he said. “And not just seniors. Lots of people are on a fixed income. Especially now as people are feeling the pain of an economic turndown.”

Jonna Levine, of Arvada, also will be campaigning in favor of 3A and 3B on Saturday. Her daughter is a freshman at Ralston Valley High School.

Levine also volunteered for the 2004 citizen’s campaign, when voters approved a $324 million bond issue and a mill levy increase that brought $38.5 million into district coffers.

Levine said the proposed ’04 budget cuts were “very scary.”

“There would’ve been tough cuts if the mill levy did not pass,“ she said. “It did, and the district made great strides. Now I hate to think all that progress will stop if (more proposed) cuts are made, laying off teachers and instructional coaches. You don’t catch up right away, and the kids are the ones that suffer.”

Even with the passage of the bond issue and mill levy increase, the district still had to make cuts.

“But they kept them out of the classroom,” Levine said. “They’re good at that.”

Lynn Setzer, Jefferson County School District director of communications, takes pride in the way the cuts were handled in 2004.

“We kept cuts out of the classrooms. It was mainly administrative,” said Setzer.

Tedford, who also volunteered to walk precincts in 2004, said she hopes to talk to 50 or 60 people.

“You meet a lot of people who have no idea what (3A/3B) is,” she said. “This is an opportunity to educate them and refresh their memory.”