Douglas County School District called “woke” in county’s voter guide

Superintendent Erin Kane knew the Douglas County School District’s pitch to voters this fall to raise taxes to fund teacher pay increases and more wouldn’t come without its challenges.

Rising inflation, for example, makes it difficult to ask of the community, she said.

“We knew it would be an uphill climb,” Kane said in an interview.

But the district is facing another, unexpected challenge: The county’s own voter guide, Kane and the school board contend, includes incorrect and misleading information about the $450 million bond measure and $60 million mill levy override the district placed on the November ballot.

At issue are the submitted comments arguing against the two measures.

“They are not fact-checked,” she said of the comments critical of the measures during a recent school board meeting. “I was astounded.”

A representative for the Douglas County Office of Clerk and Recorder did not return messages from The Denver Post seeking comment. It’s unclear who submitted the critical comments published in the guide, as they are not attributed.

But the voter guide itself — called the “Douglas County Ballot Proposals and Election Information Book” — confirms that the published comments arguing for and against ballot measures are not fact-checked.

The office “does not warrant, verify or confirm the accuracy or truth” of the ballot issue language or comment summaries that are presented in the guide, according to the book.

Among the characterizations that Kane and other district leaders take issue with is a comment that encourages people to vote “No” on the $450 million bond measure.

“Alienated parents are a deeper challenge for the school district,” the comment reads. “While DCSD has many amazing teachers, parents are concerned about ‘woke’ ideology indoctrination in the curriculum.”

The language echoes similar comments that have been used nationwide as states, including Colorado, debate what educators can teach students about racism, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Getting a mill levy override and bond passed in a conservative district like Douglas County would be hard enough, but the vote is coming as broader “culture and ideological conflicts” are taking place nationwide, said Paul Teske, dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

“There’s just a lot of code words, whether it’s ‘woke,’ ‘critical race theory’ or whatever the conversation was about furries,” he said. “It’s very easy for things to go viral.”

(That conversation about furries began after Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl claimed students are identifying as cats in schools in Colorado. Districts have said this isn’t true.)

Kane denied that the Douglas County School District, which drew national attention earlier this year when the conservative board majority fired the former superintendent, is “pushing anything ‘woke’ into the curriculum or any kind of indoctrination.”

The district follows state academic standards, Kane said during the school board meeting, adding, “Our teachers are doing amazing work.”

If it passes, the district plans to use the money from the mill levy override to pay teachers more — which Kane said is needed if schools are to retain their educators.

Teachers in Douglas County make on average $18,000 less per year than those in the neighboring Cherry Creek School District, Kane said.

“We could lose teachers to neighboring districts and with the current teacher shortage we have fewer applicants than we have ever had,” she said.

There were other comments in the guide that Kane said were incorrect or misleading. For example, one said that money from the bond measure would be used for current expenses the district already has budgeted. But the district previously has said the money would go toward building future schools in areas of the county where enrollment is growing and other expenses, such as school safety.

Another incorrect comment, she said, stated that the mill levy override “would add an additional $520 to the property taxes to a home valued” at $1 million once they are reappraised in 2023. The mill levy override is a fixed amount and will be based on current valuations, Kane said.

The district previously has said the cost for residents with homes valued between $500,000 and $1 million would be about $255 to $510 per year. The cost of non-residential property that is valued at $100,000 would be about $214 per year.

The district has said the bond would not increase taxes. Instead, they would drop slightly, if the bond is not passed.

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