Bonds and Mill Levys - The ins and outs

A school bond provides a financial avenue for school districts to meet an immediate specified need. These specified needs can range from a new school, classroom building, gymnasium, or cafeteria +/or to repairing an existing building, new buses, upgrades in classroom technology or security, etc.  A school bond issue must be voted on by the members of the community in which the school is located.


What is the difference between a bond measure and a mill levy override?

Bond measures can only be used for construction, infrastructure, and maintenance projects specified for voters in a ballot question. A mill levy override can be used for broader purposes, but still, only those listed in the ballot question.

Bond = Capital

Mill = Operations

Both collect property tax revenue that stays in Mesa County, rather than going to the state to be thrown into the School Funding Formula for all districts.


What are the benefits to the community if it passes?

The benefits to the community are enormous. To start with the greatest impact of improving our schools we can look to the Valley’s economic development. The boom and bust period in this country is over. Communities across the country that relied on a single product or industry to survive are dying and those jobs are not coming back, especially in a state like Colorado that has committed itself to clean energy. Thriving and sustainable economies across the country have one thing in common: good schools. The most obvious impact of good schools can be seen right here in Grand Junction. A year ago, Honeywell was on the verge of moving 600 jobs and their headquarters to Grand Junction. Until they saw the schools. They loved the area, the culture, and everything else we love about the Valley, but when they saw the schools they knew they would not be able to retain and recruit top talent because no parent would move their family here due to dilapidated and underfunded school system that sends its kids to school 18 days less a year than the national average. Talk to anyone in the business community here and they will have a similar story. The state is currently working on providing an economic analysis that will be available sometime in the fall.

The mill levy override question will ask voters to raise $6.5 million annually in property tax revenue within District 51 boundaries specifically for the following purposes:

  • $3.2 million to add 5 additional student contact days in the school calendar to the 165 days elementary schools, 166 days middle schools, and 169 days high schools had in 2016-17

  • $2 million for curriculum

  • $1 million for ongoing maintenance beyond Priority 1 projects

  • $300,000 for ongoing technology resources and support

More than two-thirds of the General Fund goes straight to student instruction and support, and the rest goes into keeping schools operational with everything from technology to custodial services. Budgets and other financial information are posted in the Financial Transparency section on the district's home page at The district has been awarded the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 17 straight years. 


Where does the money go? Administration? Smaller classrooms?

The bond measure would allow the district to issue $118.5 million in bonds that would be paid off through property taxes collected specifically for the following purposes:

  • $55 million for Priority 1 maintenance projects across D51 schools

  • $40 million to replace Orchard Mesa Middle School (completely dilapidated)

  • $11 million for technology upgrades

  • $5 million to build a gym at Dual Immersion Academy (only school that doesn’t have one)

  • $5 million for a Palisade High School auxiliary gym

  • $2.5 million to add security features at schools across the district (ie:  fire alarms are not up to code…)


How does this school district compare around the state (not financially but achievement)

Currently, D51’s per pupil funding is 171 out of 178 at ~$7,500.

Despite being near the lowest dollars funded per pupil in the state,  D51 performs academically somewhere around the middle of the pack. The PARCC test scores will arrive around September and will provide a more exact answer.

  • 22,732 students enrolled
  • 77.1% graduate (78.9% Colorado)
  • 2016 - 35%   4th-grade students meeting or exceeding expectations in English Language Arts (43.9% Colorado)
  • 2016 - 24.7% Students meeting or exceeding expectations on CMAS Math (32.6% Colorado)
  • 2016 – 31.9% students meeting or exceeding expectations on CMAS English Lang Arts (40.2% Colorado
  • 2016 – 50.6% qualifying for free or reduced price lunch (42.1 % Colorado)
  • 2015 – 16.4% children living in poverty (13.6% Colorado)


How will student education be affected? How can the community be assured that student achievement will increase and improve with the extra money?

Safe, quality buildings and upgrades in classroom technology and additional space for varying ways to learn (like gyms) effects student education.  As does putting more days on the calendar increases opportunities for learning.

“Assurance” the student achievement will increase will need to be watched for years to come and measurements are being done annually:  See “Kids Count in Colorado” report.

On another note – quality neighborhood schools lure businesses, employees, and a stronger tax payer base contributing to a healthy, stable economy – which has been alluding Mesa County now for years.


How is the district going to be held accountable for improvements with this money?

The School Board is the accountable body and its members are elected.  If they do not produce the outcomes we want, we must not re-elect them.

The new superintendent has committed to keeping the district accountable including monthly articles/ads in the Sentinel +/or posting the information to their website as money is spent, or mail is also being considered to parents and community members regarding the ways the money is spent.


How will student education be affected? How can the community be assured that student achievement will increase and improve with the extra money?

Two years ago, D51 implemented a revolutionary learning model: Perfomance-Based Learning.

 Next week, more than 800 legislators, policy writers, and educational leaders are coming to Grand Junction just to learn about its implementation at the Elevation Conference. By adding five additional days to the calendar, purchasing curriculum, and expanding our technology, D51 will be able to accelerate this innovative and successful learning model across the District.

Students will also be safer and more secure by installing keyless entries and security vestibules. Orchard Mesa Middle School for example has 39 separate access points. It is impossible to secure that school and keep students safe.

Passing the Mill and Bond gives chance to learn from textbooks from this century, learn with the technology needed for a 21st Century education, and secure our schools and keep our kids safe.


Where does the money go? Administration? Smaller classrooms?

You can see exactly where every dollar goes on our website at Every dollar goes to kids and classrooms, NOT the administration.  


How did the D51 School Board make these lists?

The board discussed these items with community members and met with staff at every D51 school twice in 2016-17 to generate the list above. Items were picked based on the positive impact they will have on students by equipping them with better learning tools and safer, more functional, better-quality learning environments. There is also an urgency to obtaining these items, but funding is not currently available for them. Districts may be able to move thousands on a budget, but not millions, which is what most of these items require.

The Priority 1 Maintenance items come from a 2016 Master Plan Update performed by architects at Blythe Group + Co. The $55 million estimate for these projects, which would impact almost every D51 school, came from a professional cost estimator working with Blythe and are based on the median price for similar projects in our region. The projected costs of these projects are based on the assumption the projects would take place in 2018.


How much will it cost me if the measures pass?

Property taxes will increase by roughly $5 per month for every $100,000 of your home's value if both the mill levy override and bond measure pass.


How can districts use bond/mill override money?

Only for the exact purposes listed in the ballot question. The one exception would be when there is money left over, as was the case with the 2004 ballot measure (the most recent to pass in D51). In that case, the district used remaining bond measure dollars to build Chipeta Elementary. 


When did voters last approve a bond measure or mill levy override in District 51?

The Class of 2017 was in kindergarten the last time voters approved a bond measure and mill levy override in the district. The bond measure of 2004 allowed the district to issue $109 million in bonds to build three new schools (Fruita 8/9 School, Pear Park Elementary, and Rim Rock Elementary), replace two existing schools (Bookcliff Middle School and the Career Center), renovate and expand 37 schools, and acquire property for future building sites. A fourth school – Chipeta Elementary – was built with savings from the other projects. The mill levy override of 2004 generates up to $4 million per year to fund staffing and operations at the three new schools.


How does the district spend its money now?

More than two-thirds of the General Fund goes straight to student instruction and support, and the rest goes into keeping schools operational with everything from technology to custodial services. Budgets and other financial information are posted in the Financial Transparency section on the district's home page at The district has been awarded the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 17 straight years. 


What has the district done to be more efficient?

The district has reduced annual utility costs by about a third over the last decade through multiple energy and resource efficiency projects. D51 also reduced fuel costs by switching to propane-powered buses, reduced all employee contracts by five days, and trimmed all school and department budgets. In addition, District 51 has six fewer central leaders than the district right above it in enrollment size, Academy 20, and the same amount (23) as the district right below it in enrollment, Greeley 6.

The district has chopped more than $40 million and shed more than 175 jobs (net) from its budget since 2009 due to state funding cuts and increased needs in our population. 


How is District 51 funded?

Like all other Colorado school districts, District 51 receives most of its funding through the funding formula included in the School Finance Act. The formula takes a mixture of state taxes, mixes it with local property tax and vehicle registration tax revenue, and churns out a dollar amount for each district to receive per student based on enrollment, local cost of living, number of at-risk students, and other factors.

While very small and very large districts tend to get more funding, the state considers District 51 just the right size to get some of the lowest funding in the state. In 2017-18, the state funding formula has decided District 51 will receive $7,278.91 per student – nearly $400 below the state average and more than $2,000 below the U.S. average.  (BTW – our community leaders have tried on many occasions to get this changed for SD 51 – to no avail.)

Without the Negative Factor, District 51 would rightfully receive $8,187.62 per student. The state created the Negative Factor during the recession to keep its budget solvent. The Negative Factor siphons off a portion of the funding determined by the School Finance Act funding formula and sends that money to other parts of the state budget. District 51 alone has lost nearly $150 million to the Negative Factor since 2010 – almost an entire year's budget – and will be cut another $20 million this coming year.


Can schools just collect more property tax if property values increase?

No – an increase in the assessed value of a home or business does not change how much funding a school district receives. If a district collects more or less property tax revenue, it only means the state will have to contribute less or more money to provide a district with the amount the state has already decided a district will get through the state funding formula for school districts.


Can school districts raise sales taxes instead?

No. The state funding that school districts receive includes a mix of state sales tax, cigarettes tax, and other state tax revenue, but school districts can only seek tax increases for property tax.


Aren't marijuana taxes helping schools?

Not here. Schools can receive marijuana tax funding through grants for just three things:

  • School construction
  • School behavioral health, or
  • Drug resistance education programs

The district has applied for B.E.S.T. (Building Excellent Schools Today) construction grants that get the first $40 million from recreational marijuana excise tax collections. SD 51 has always been denied.