Good news — of a kind
August 21, 2015
Kids are back at all of the public schools in Eagle County, another sign of the waning days of our always too-short summers. But this year's back-to-school week has news that's at once encouraging and, perhaps, a bit troubling.
Officials with Eagle County Schools expect to count more than 7,000 students in a few weeks, when official attendance is submitted to the Colorado Department of Education. That growth was expected, or at least expected enough for the district to have added about 16 new teaching positions for the 2015-16 school year.
That growth seems to have come fairly quickly, too.
Eagle Valley High School recently posted on Facebook its student counts dating back to 2011. Through 2013, attendance was flat, growing from 700 to 711 students. In 2014, the official count was 752 students, and this year's student body is expected to number more than 850.
The question of just who these kids are and where they come from is a good subject for a future news story. The big picture, though, is encouraging as the valley continues to recover from the economic slump that hit the valley full force in 2009.
During those dark first months of the slump, the valley lost more than 5,000 jobs. Since that number measured only positions for which IRS paperwork was filed, the number was certainly higher. Many of those people stuck it out in the valley, but many simply moved on.
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The surge in school enrollment is one of a few signs that people are moving to the valley again.
The questions that follow the surge are the same questions that have been with us since the first gondola clattered up Vail Mountain. Where will these new people live? And, from a public policy perspective, how will local governments pay for the services many of those new people demand?
The biggest pressure for public services falls squarely on schools. When property values — and property tax collections — dived in the early years of this decade, so did revenues at the school district, which depends on those taxes to fund operations. State funding pays only a portion of the school district's way, meaning the majority of funds come from property taxpayers here.
While property values are rising again, revenues haven't yet recovered to pre-slump levels. That means the district will have to be whip-smart as it finds ways to provide teachers and facilities for the new students. And the day is coming, probably sooner than later, when we'll be asked for more tax money to pay those bills. The district will have to prove it's wise with its current funding for voters to say yes to that request.