Parents split on crowding problem

Scott N. Miller
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyStudents fill the halls Friday during a break at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail.

EAGLE – Eagle County School Board members haven’t found much direction in a recent survey.Results from that survey were presented to the board at its March 23 work session. The survey, part of the district’s “Coming Attractions” project, asked residents how to solve capacity problems at four of the district’s 15 schools, and whether or not going into debt to build new schools should be part of the solution.The answers were indecisive, at best. The 800 people who took the survey were split almost evenly on whether or not to increase taxes to build a new school. To add to the indecision, survey-takers didn’t provide a clear direction about possible solutions to the numbers crunches at those schools.Most respondents favored some sort of shifting grades around between schools. The most-mentioned solution in the last couple of months has been moving fifth and sixth graders to Minturn Middle School, with seventh, eighth and ninth graders attending Berry Creek Middle in Edwards. Turning Battle Mountain into a three-year high school would ease crowding here. But there was no clear favorite among several options presented.”If we do this, there needs to be a rhyme and reason to grade reconfiguration,” said Board Member MaryAnn Stavney. The split middle grades, she said “has a logic to it.”

The indecision of survey-takers was reflected on the board. Even among members who solidly favor building a new school – which could be a $60 million proposition – there was skepticism about whether a bond issue could pass on its first test.District voters have historically rejected tax increases on the first try, said Board Member Connie Kincaid-Strahan.”Even if a bond does pass, there’s got to be a solution for now and in the future,” Kincaid-Strahan said. “A bond doesn’t fix the problems we have today.”All board members said any bond issue will require a backup plan in case voters say “no.” But some board members are more eager than others to go to the voters.Board Member Louise Funk has long been an advocate of building a new high school in Edwards to replace Battle Mountain. She saw the survey results as a reason to go to the voters.”If it had been lopsided either way, this would be an easy decision,” Funk said. “But with the close division, it makes me think we should ask the voters.”Funk said replacing Battle Mountain should be a priority. “Battle Mountain is a Band-Aid with a Band-Aid with a Band-Aid,” she said. “I’m not willing to spend $7 to $10 million for another Band-Aid.”

Fellow Board Member Andy Arnold had his doubts about a new school.”Big and shiny and new is not what we need right now,” Arnold said. “There are other programs we could put money into.”While acknowledging he could argue either side of going to voters, Arnold said he doesn’t believe voters are ready to vote for a bond issue now. And, Board President Scott Green said, a new high school alone is only part of a solution.”I want to look at an overall solution,” Green said. “A new high school doesn’t solve demographics, Minturn or Meadow Mountain. I want to look at an overall solution.”Green said a bond election could throw other district progress off stride.”I think gains in student achievement will make a bond easier to pass,” he said. Board members have several options to mull over in the next few weeks. They’ll devote a big part of their April meetings to hashing out a decision, including a large portion of an all-day retreat scheduled for April 27.

A decision on whether or not to take a bond issue to voters in November is expected in May.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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