Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull found himself in the news last week when an op-ed in USA Today quoted his dissatisfaction with legal marijuana's contributions to his school system.
"Marijuana Devastated Colorado, Don't Legalize It Nationally," written by Colorado Christian University Vice President of Public Policy Jeff Hunt, made inflammatory claims about increased youth use, and Hunt bolstered his argument with a comment from Bull about the lack of help his school district had gotten from marijuana revenue.
Bull's comments came from a public letter he wrote about school funding in 2016, chastising those who'd believed cannabis tax revenue would help school funding during legalization campaigns in 2012. "People keep asking me, ‘Where’s the pot money?’ The short answer is that the Cherry Creek School District hasn’t received any," he wrote at the time. But according to information from the Colorado Department of Education, that statement was false.
Bull states three times in his letter that the Cherry Creek School District hadn't received any marijuana tax money as of August 2016, but information received through a Colorado Open Records Act request shows otherwise. According to records from the Colorado Department of Education, Cherry Creek School District will have received over $125,000 in pot tax revenue between the fiscal years of 2014-15 and 2016-17, which ends September 30.
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"So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana," Bull continued in his letter.
We reached out to Bull last week for an interview about his statements in Hunt's piece, but he declined. When we contacted him after learning that his district had indeed received marijuana tax money, Bull again declined an interview. Instead, Cherry Creek Schools Director of Communications Abbe Smith issued a statement to explain Bull's letter: "The superintendent’s letter to the community regarding school funding shortages and the marijuana tax was published in August 2016. At that time, the district had not received any funding from the marijuana tax."
However, CDE information shows that Cherry Creek Schools received $8,236 in marijuana tax money in 2014-15 for its Charter School Capital Construction Fund, which can be used for school construction, renovation, maintaining, financing or the purchasing or leasing of facilities, according to the CDE. The same fund received $28,289 in 2015-16, records show.
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"The superintendent was making the point that the problem of school funding shortages is a complex challenge that cannot be solved by quick fixes. And that Cherry Creek has not seen a huge influx of money from the marijuana tax," Smith says.
According to the CDE, by the end of this fiscal year, on September 30, the Cherry Creek School District should have received $51,236 in marijuana tax money for bullying prevention and education grants as well as another $38,161 for its Charter School Capital Construction Fund – which is in line for another $38,637 in 2017-18.
The district has a verbal commitment for $85,273 in marijuana tax funding in 2017-18, Smith acknowledges, without specifying where the money will go.
According to a report from VS Strategies based on data from the Colorado Department of Revenue, $117.9 million in marijuana tax money has been used to fund school construction projects, and an additional $5.7 million was distributed to the Public School Fund in fiscal years 2015-16 and 2016-17.