Editorial: Is this what voters wanted, Eagle County Schools? | VailDaily.com

Editorial: Is this what voters wanted, Eagle County Schools?

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Vail CO, Colorado

The new Battle Mountain High School should have athletic fields that can stand up to eight hours of daily use.

The Eagle County Charter Academy should get help paying for a building that can safely hold all of the students during public assemblies.

The Eagle County School District also should consider how its handling of the $128 million bond issue voters approved in November 2006 may come back to haunt it.

The district expects to have $6 million in leftover bond funds to spend on new projects. On the top of the list is $490,000 to install an artificial turf field at the new Battle Mountain High School. The district also is considering contributing $2.75 million for a common building for the charter school. The charter school would still have to raise about $500,000 to pay for the building.

We can’t be too harsh with a public entity that ends up having funds leftover from a tax increase. Too often, it’s the other way around ” a bond issue falls short of covering the project it was supposed to pay for.

But in the school district’s case, both the projects mentioned above should have been included in the original bond, and the fact that they weren’t raises legitimate questions about whether the district’s decisions really represent the voters’ will.

When voters approved the bond measure 18 months ago, they clearly expected a new Battle Mountain High School that would be better than the current one, including an on-site athletic field with grandstands. Instead, the school board members insist they never said a new football stadium would be funded with the bond money. So while the school board is treating the football stadium and now, the artificial turf, as unexpected bonuses for the new school, they really shouldn’t be regarded that way.

What voters didn’t expect is to have bond money help pay for a new building for the charter school. In fact, the school district deliberately left the charter academy out of the ballot language for the bond because surveys showed the bond would fail if the school was included.

There is enough resentment in the community toward the charter academy ” because its waiting list is long, because its test scores are high, because its student body is mainly white and well-off ” that its inclusion could have sunk the entire bond.

But the school district should have included the charter academy if, as it now seems, the decision to help the school had already been made. Besides, the charter school is part of the school district and has the right to receive financial support.

Usually government must make a specific and compelling case to voters to get bond measures approved. That’s why it’s risky for the school district to use leftover funds to pay for one project voters already thought they were funding and another project that voters may not have funded if given the choice.

It seems the district believes the end will justify the means by which it got the bond money. And it does, until voters say otherwise.

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