No easy answers to school crowding
EAGLE-VAIL – Local schools will be different at the start of the 2006-07 school year. Karen Eyrich knows what kind of look she’d prefer.Officials have floated four ideas as part of the Eagle County School District’s “coming attractions” meetings at which parents and others have been for ideas to solve crowding problems at a handful of schools. The school board is expected to make a decision by the end of the school year, in late May.Two of the options include new buildings and new taxes. The other two rely on shuffling kids between schools to take care of crowding for the next few years.By far the most controversial of the options is closing Meadow Mountain Elementary School in Eagle-Vail. That’s where Eyrich and her fellow Meadow Mountain parents come in. After a sometimes-heated session with district officials last month, Eyrich and the rest of the Meadow Mountain parents’ association are asking the school board to create a new junior high school. That would move fifth and sixth graders to Minturn Middle School, with seventh, eighth and ninth graders going to Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards. The classes would also be split between the middle schools in Eagle and Gypsum.”That would give the district a few years,” Eyrich said. “I have two kids at Minturn, and I know about the problems there. My seventh grader won’t get any computer classes this year because there aren’t enough kids there.”While the Meadow Mountain parents’ group endorses the junior high plan, it’s not universally popular. At a Monday evening meeting at Battle Mountain High School, some parents questioned how a junior high school would affect ninth graders, especially academically.”It seems like it takes ninth graders a year to settle into high school,” Edwards resident Debbie Robbins said. “How will you get kids to be college-focused in just three years of high school?”The answer will depend largely on the adults working at the new schools, said Superintendent John Brendza. “We would have to really look at it,” Brendza said. Ultimately, he added, none of the options is particularly easy.
‘Demographic challenge’Perhaps the hardest part of the shuffling is trying to achieve what district officials call “demographic balance” in the schools, which means trying to balance out the numbers of white and Hispanic students.In the upper valley, more than 60 percent of all students are Hispanic. But Avon Elementary is nearly 80 percent Hispanic. Edwards Elementary is more than 70 percent Hispanic. A similar proportion of white kids attends Red Sandstone Elementary School in Vail.”Any solution that doesn’t address demographics isn’t a solution,” said parent Marcy Donovan.Trying to better balance those numbers has district officials looking at the one constant between all four of the options: shifting elementary school boundaries.Virtually all of the options district officials are looking at move kids from schools they’re in now. Most options involve taking kids who live at Lake Creek Village and Brett Ranch in Edwards and moving them to Avon.All about timingWhile none of the changes made this year will start until the 2006-07 school year, one Avon Elementary teacher asked for immediate help.”We need boundary changes at Avon Elementary now before we lose more students and to preserve programs,” Amy Guercio said.
Avon’s student population has been shrinking over the last few years, Guercio said. A lot of the white students in Singletree and Wildridge who could go to the school instead attend the Eagle County Charter Academy. Getting more students into Avon would keep student numbers up. That means current programs could continue.But it’s a bad idea to change school boundary lines twice in two years, Brendza said. That could happen if boundaries changed for the coming school year were changed again as part of a broader plan.”These are emotional decisions,” he said. Because of that, Brendza said making changes once is a better idea.Timing boundary changes is one problem district officials face. The timing of settling on a final plan is another.Bill Hammer of Eagle-Vail, who could have as many as three kids attend Meadow Mountain, wasn’t satisfied when Brendza said he expected the school board to decide on one option this spring.The possibility of closing Meadow Mountain is “hanging over our heads,” Hammer said. “We don’t know and there’s no immediate reason to close this school,” he added. “That’s unacceptable. I don’t know why a decision can’t be made.”Assistant Superintendent Karen Strakbein replied that good decisions take time.”We want to be thoughtful about this,” she said. “It sounds simple to say yes or no. But it’s not that simple.”Looking elsewhere
The uncertainty about Meadow Mountain’s future has led Hammer to get state paperwork that would allow him and other parents to start a new charter school, which would be publicly funded, but would be run by an independent board instead of the local school district.”We need good planning, too,” Hammer said. “I have to have this application complete by Aug. 1. Anyone interested can find me in the phone book.”Another parent looking at her options said she wished Hammer luck, but didn’t sound particularly interested in trying to start a charter school.”He has a different direction he’s taking,” parent Dana Gumber said. “It’s a huge thing he’s trying to do, but I totally see where he’s coming from.”Gumber’s own thinking has led her to look into private school for her two kids.Even if the district takes care of its needs for the next four or five years, Gumber said she doesn’t want to fight another battle over the future of her kids’ elementary school.”If I can get them in (to private school), I’ll do it,” she said. “I just want a secure, stable environment.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado