The 2016 Cherry Creek Schools Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the Cherry Creek Community Legislative Network (CCCLN), was full of surprises this year.
First, a spring snowstorm forced CCCLN to move the event from March 23rd to April 26th. New this year was a visit to the Senate and House galleries, where the public can observe both chambers in action. The CCCLN group watched as Rep. Janet Buckner honored the Overland High School Boys Basketball team – two-time, 5A State Champions – on the house floor. Then, before the CCCLN could begin its formal program, a fire alarm forced evacuation of the Capitol for a short time. It was an adventure, as the group moved to the cafeteria in the Legislative Office Building across the street and finally got down to business.
CCCLN Co-President Ilana Spiegel welcomed the group of Cherry Creek School District parents, students, employees and community members. She thanked them for taking the time to learn about the legislative process and its impact on education. She encouraged them to get to know their state representatives and senators and to let their elected officials know what is important to them.
Spiegel was followed by Randy Perlis, Board of Education President, and Dr. Harry Bull, superintendent of Cherry Creek Schools. Dr. Bull explained that while there haven’t been as many high profile issues, such as standardized testing, on the docket during this legislative session, the perennial issues of school finance and the state’s process for funding public schools are as critical as ever.
Chief Financial Officer Guy Bellville reiterated that point and gave the group a brief primer on the school finance act, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and Amendment 23, which all interact and impact school funding every year.
Then it was back to the Capitol, where the group gathered in the old Supreme Court Chambers. Lisa Gezelter, a research analyst with the Colorado Legislative Council, shared insights on how citizens can follow and testify on various pieces of legislation. Craig Harper, a Joint Budget Committee staff member, dug deeper into the issue of school finance, explaining the various revenue sources that provide school funding, namely local property taxes and state income and special use taxes. Fifth-grade students from Indian Ridge Elementary then shared the presentation they made to lawmakers regarding healthy foods.
Some of the parents and community members in the audience have participated in Day at the Capitol for many years; others, like Adrianne Gray and her daughter Martha, were there for the first time.
“My daughter was very interested in coming so I wanted to come with her,” Gray said. “We’re learning a lot about how the legislature works and what bills are coming up.”
“I wanted to go so I could see what the government looks like on a state level and then go on my Washington D.C. trip and compare it to what government looks like at the national level,” said Martha Gray, an eighth-grader at Campus Middle School. “I’m learning a lot about the process in which a bill becomes a law and how long it takes for people to debate it back and forth.”
The day wrapped up with a luncheon with some of the lawmakers who represent the Cherry Creek School District, including Rep. Rhonda Fields, Rep. Janet Buckner, Rep. Cole Wist, Sen. Jack Tate and Sen. Nancy Todd.
Gray and others agreed it was one of the most important parts of the day.
“I want them to know that we’re watching, keeping an eye on things,” Gray said. “I’m concerned about the teacher shortage and funding, so it’s good to check in with them and let them know we’re here.”