Eagle County Schools to call on community for help addressing challenges, needs
The district is planning to reach out to both property owners and district retirees in coming weeks
Heading into a new school year, Eagle County Schools is working to get ahead of challenges plaguing the education system across the state and country.
In the past few years, the pandemic and other factors have led to a nationwide teacher and substitute shortage — something that is amplified locally by state funding, the housing crisis and more.
At last week’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Philip Qualman emphasized that housing continues to be the district’s greatest challenge in hiring.
“I can’t tell you how many offers Adele (Wilson, the district’s chief human resource officer) has put out that are declined because people can’t find a place to live or initially accepted, but two or three weeks later, folks have searched and searched and can’t find affordable housing and they have to turn down the job,” Qualman said to the board at the meeting. “We have got to do something to fix this.”
The district has been making strides in increasing its inventory of employee housing including breaking ground on a site near Battle Mountain High School, re-starting conversations about the opportunity at Maloit Park, partnering with Habitat for Humanity, scooping up master leases and more. However, even with this progress, many of the new units won’t be available as urgently as the situation calls for.
Qualman addressed this, saying that while the district has made “tremendous progress on our housing master plan,” they’re either under construction or still not enough.
“We’ve got about 50 people on a waiting list for employee housing, even with all the expansion that we’ve done in master leases, it’s still a problem,” he said.
In order to address the district’s more pressing need for housing, Qualman said the district intends to reach out to local homeowners and seek their support.
“Our sense is that there are many, many properties vacant in this county,” he said. “And talking to people throughout all of our different neighborhoods, people always tell me: ‘Oh yeah, there’s three or four houses on my street that are vacant that people are in only two weeks a year.’”
As such, the letter, Qualman added, will serve as an appeal to all local property owners and ask “if they’re willing to open up some or part of their home to rent for Eagle County School District employees.”
The district, in an email to the Vail Daily, said it intends to send out the letters in a couple of weeks to all county homeowners “in hopes of casting a wide net and maybe having some success in securing housing for ECSD staff.”
Qualman on Wednesday said that the letter will ask homeowners to create space and give them an opportunity to fill out a short form if they’re interested in helping.
“I don’t know if this will produce anything,” he said. “I hope it produces a few opportunities for our staff, cause we certainly need housing in a big way.”
In a similar vein, the district is preparing another letter that will go out specifically to district retirees.
“The letter will appeal to retirees of the district and gauge their interest in returning to work with the schools in some capacity. This could help fill vacancies and areas of need for the district. The reason Qualman and the district are making this appeal now is related to legislation that was signed into law in March of this year, Qualman said Wednesday.
The legislation made permanent a program that allows school retirees to work without a reduction in benefits. The goal, according to a bill summary was to help rural school districts with “a critical shortage of qualified individuals with specific experience, skills or qualifications that the service retiree has.”
“That’s a huge opportunity for them to make some extra money and an outstanding resource for us of people who understand our schools, our students and our systems to come back and work for us,” Qualman said. “We can be extremely flexible with them in terms of scheduling and make whatever assignment and schedule works best for them.”
According to Qualman at the meeting, the district has about 50 of these letters going out sometime this week. Again, the superintendent expressed hope in reaching out to this community and said he was looking forward to seeing “if anyone is interested in coming back and working for us a little bit.”
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.