A flyer recently mailed to Littleton Public Schools (LPS) residents asking them to contact their state legislators about an education funding plan cost the district nearly $10,000.
LPS Superintendent Brian Ewert sent out a newsletter earlier this month asking residents to support a possible bill that would remove the hospital provider fee from the general fund and convert it to an enterprise fund – thereby exempting the fee from counting toward the state’s constitutional revenue limit under the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and potentially opening the door to increased education funding.
The hospital provider fee is a fee charged to hospitals for each bed used by a patient daily. The revenue goes to fund the state’s expansion of Medicaid. By removing it from the general fund, it is predicted it would free up more than $600 million under the TABOR’s revenue cap. That would prevent automatic refunds to Colorado residents and possibly allow for more education funding.
Joint Budget Committee Chairman Kent Lambert-R has called the controversial maneuver a shell game in its effort to skirt TABOR laws.
The tri-fold, full-color, glossy mailer from the school district is Ewert’s first informational flyer since taking over as superintendent this year
Although the flyer had some information on it about what was happening around the district, it started with a letter from Ewert focused on talk of an inadequate statewide tax structure and a need for more money.
Diane Leiker, director of communications for LPS, said the message doesn’t campaign against TABOR, but provides information to LPS parents, staff, and taxpayers about the reality of the constitutional entanglement of Gallagher, TABOR and Amendment 23, and the impact of that entanglement on Littleton Public Schools.
The breakdown of costs for the mailer included $3,831 in printing costs for 47,000 pieces, $455 for mailing list preparation, $1,717 for mailing services, and $3,713 in postage.
“Littleton Public Schools sends informational mailers to all of its taxpayers and out-of-district families regularly (nearly 46,000 mailboxes),” Leiker said. “In a recent survey, taxpayers without children in LPS, particularly senior citizens, indicated that they prefer to receive information from LPS through direct mail. LPS shares a variety of messages of importance to our stakeholders in these mailings.”
Lori Horn, a Littleton resident told Complete Colorado in an earlier story that this letter was different from what families had received before.
“It was a different kind of letter for families to receive,” Horn said. “The Littleton school board should not have hired someone who wanted to be a political figure or politicize.”
Horn said she thinks the mailer boarders on campaigning. She believes it’s wrong for a superintendent to take a stand on an issue.
“To put information in a letter like that, that’s not a full story,” Horn said.
Leiker said the letter is informational only, but it does specifically ask for residents to call their legislators and support changing the status of the fee, even listing local legislators and their contact information.
Ewert said the recession in 2008 was devastating to Colorado schools, and that LPS alone has lost $87.5 million in funding since 2009 because of cuts made to education funding by the state legislature through the “negative factor.”
The negative factor is a mechanism used by the Colorado General Assembly to restrain total spending on public education while still allowing base spending to rise by enrollment plus inflation each year. The negative factor reduces funding to school finance factors not covered by Amendment 23, which include school district size, local cost-of-living, and the number of kids eligible for free or reduced lunch in a district. The Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled that the negative factor is constitutional despite assertions to the contrary.
Ewert told the Parent Teachers Association last week that he expects 168 of the state’s 178 school districts to do the same. Ewert had the full support of his school board, Leiker said in an earlier story.
George Culpepper, who has two children in the district, said the district could have found a better place to spend its money, especially with ongoing concerns from the community following Claire Davis’ death. Davis was a senior when she was fatally shot in an attack at Arapahoe High School in the LPS district in 2013.
“At a time when the district is searching for money to fund K-12 education, they are busy wasting taxpayer dollars to help rally support against TABOR,” Culpepper said. “This money could have been saved to help implement safety measures outlined in the soon-to-be released Davis report. Especially since (a recent district-conducted survey revealed) 28 percent of the community believes their children are not safe in Littleton schools.”