Education - and Economic Development
A prominent supporter of Jefferson County education recently asked me, “What is the effect on economic development, job growth and property values when our schools are in the paper every day for controversial 'reforms'? What if the quality of our schools and education is actually decreasing?”
Great questions. County Commissioners are integrally involved in economic development. A Commissioner sits on the Board of the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation (JEDC) and the county contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to the JEDC. The JEDC's economic development plan's focus is attracting and developing new business. The plan also emphasizes workforce development and education, recognizing that business people looking to relocate in the county will research our school system, just as we all do when moving to a new area.
A quick internet search reveals that Jeffco Public Schools has been ranked among the top 35 largest school districts in the nation and has received recognition and awards from national and state organizations. However, my search also shows that starting in 2014, there has been controversy around and a lack of collaborative decision making by the Jefferson County School Board.
The School Board’s survey for 2014-2015 reveals that the top three priorities of the people are to sustain electives (98%), reduce class size (92%), and increase teacher pay (96%). Expanding charter schools came in last (22%). However, our new School Board's actions, so far, have shown an inclination to disregard the priorities of the survey and to, instead, implement policies that have provoked public protests by residents from all walks of life. The ensuing controversy has created an atmosphere of tension and confusion, for parents, teachers, students, and on the Board itself. This is not good for our children, as they prepare for further education and eventual participation in the work force, and therefore, it is not good for economic development in our county.
The movement to reduce investment in our schools, teachers and classrooms didn't start this year. It started years ago and has affected all schools and universities across the state. Two years ago the citizens of Jefferson County had two initiatives on the ballot, a mill levy override and a bond proposal that invested in our classrooms and school buildings. Before the election, Brian Willms, President of the West Chamber, wrote an editorial in the Denver Post (Sep. 16, 2012), where he noted, “… That's why Jeffco business and civic leaders have come together in support of 3A and 3B. The West Chamber and the chambers of commerce from Golden and Arvada, along with the Denver Metro Association of Realtors and city councils from Golden, Arvada and Wheat Ridge, have all endorsed 3A and 3B.” In spite of these endorsements, Commissioner Don Rosier opposed 3A and 3B. Does he understand the connection between investment in our schools and economic development?
It is shortsighted not to acknowledge that our public education system has a critical impact on Jeffco’s economic development, through property values, the businesses we attract and the workforce supplied for those businesses. It is in the county’s best interest to promote thriving and successful communities by working with the school district as a community partner and maintaining open lines of communication with the district’s leadership.
We are at a crossroads. Jefferson County’s Commissioners must support education. Whether it's support of K-12 or working with Red Rocks Community College or the School of Mines, I understand the connection between investment in our schools and investment in our future.