Red Sandstone supporters plead for school
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Vail leaders, community members and parents are flooding the email boxes of school board members to argue that they should stop considering the closure of Red Sandstone Elementary School, the town of Vail’s only public school.
Supporters of the school, which include community members and not just parents of students, say closing Red Sandstone would provide the district with minimal savings, yet would drastically impact the community, the students and their families.
The school board is faced with the task of trimming $5.5 million from its budget after voters failed to pass a tax increase measure last month that board members say would have made up the difference.
The Vail Town Council is so supportive of keeping the school open that council members said Tuesday the town will do whatever it takes to keep the school there.
“It’s not far-fetched to say we might help in some way financially, too,” Councilman Kevin Foley said, adding that he couldn’t speak for the other council members.
Foley, who has been a volunteer basketball coach for 19 years at Red Sandstone, said the town of Vail has invested so much to ensure Red Sandstone remains a part of the community because without the school, it would be arguable that Vail would even be a community.
“(Having that school) says we’re a community, that we’ve got young kids living here,” Foley said. “We’re not just a resort that is the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ – we actually have people that live here and work here.”
Phil Onofrio, the school district’s chief financial officer, said Wednesday that the district plans to review the numbers for three district schools – Red Sandstone, June Creek Elementary and Avon Elementary – at its next meeting in January. Those are the three schools the district will consider closing, should it decide to close any schools at all, he said.
“The board will discuss if savings justify the damage to the communities and the kids,” Onofrio said, recognizing the discussion is an emotional one, but the district has to have it purely for financial reasons.
Red Sandstone, which is the district’s top-performing elementary school, has 246 students enrolled this year and is projected to enroll about 240 students next year, Onofrio said. The capacity at the school is about 400 students.
“The capacity or percent usage is an issue for all the schools,” Onofrio said. “If you have a school at 98 percent (capacity), you’re obviously not going to consider closing it.”
The enrollment and the cost of operating buildings are the two factors that will go into the equation. The school district leases the Red Sandstone property from the town of Vail and board member Brian Nolan said Tuesday night that the ongoing cost of closing Red Sandstone would be minimal to the district, which helps make it such a viable candidate.
Onofrio said the decision has nothing to do with the educational factors, such as Red Sandstone’s performance as a school.
But parents say there are other factors that must be considered or else a decision to close the school would be nothing but short-sighted.
Amy Holm, a Red Sandstone parent who chose to keep her children in school there after her family moved to Edwards, said the school serves students from East Vail to West Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She feels the school has been misrepresented when claims are made that the school is only there to serve the “higher echelon,” or children only from Vail. She said there’s a much broader picture, including more widespread impacts than just to the town of Vail.
“It will have a huge impact on the community at large,” Holm said.
Plus, the costs of reorganizing the district and moving staff around would be significant, she said.
Onofrio said closing the school would mean the district would have to redraw the boundaries for the eastern end of the school district in order to balance the populations at each school. That would be a big, and expensive, undertaking, he said.
“We haven’t looked at that yet – that’s a big project,” Onofrio said. “We’re kind of waiting to see if the board feels like we’re going to close schools, then we’ll look at that.”
Former Vail Councilwoman and current Red Sandstone parent Kim Newbury said the communities that feed into Red Sandstone won’t stand for not having a school in Vail. She echoed Vail Councilman Greg Moffet’s comments from the Tuesday council meeting in which he said the town could look to creating a charter school under a state governing body separate from the school district.
The hit to the school district, which receives state funding on a per-student basis, would be larger than the savings from closing the school, she said. With 246 students at about $6,800 per student for the 2011-12 school year, Red Sandstone accounts for about $1.7 million.
“You take away a school and the community will do something else and it will hurt the school district,” Newbury said. “I know Vail is very committed to keeping a school in town. It’s infrastructure to me, like a fire station or a police force.”
Newbury and others have written letters to the district explaining the importance of Red Sandstone. Vail Councilwoman Susie Tjossem wrote about the town’s goal of having 30 percent of its workforce live in town – that town investments into ensuring this goal is achieved risk being wasted if the only public school were to close.
“Key takeaway for you to consider: Town of Vail is working hard to attract young families back to Vail,” Tjossem wrote. “This effort will be thwarted without having a public elementary school as part of the package.”
Tjossem also points out that Vail is the economic engine of the county and its property values “are very much part of the funding mechanism of (Eagle County) schools.”
Red Sandstone parent Chris Chantler said Red Sandstone is the success story of the school district and said there’s no fiscal advantage to closing the school. He’s hopeful the school board will choose to cut the budget elsewhere.
“The fact they keep discussing it is discouraging for parents,” he said.
And because of the support from the town of Vail to keep a public school operating, Chantler knows there will be a school on that property one way or another, regardless of the school board’s decision. But to turn the school into a charter school would be disruptive for the children, he said.
The town of Vail owns the property and leases it to the school district for $10 per year – that’s not a typo. But in the lease it says the district must operate a school there, or the town gets its building back. Moffet said the town would enter into a similar deal with another school operator, such as a charter school, who wanted to run a school there, too.
“We haven’t looked at this asset as a money maker,” Moffet said. “It’s part of our community.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.