Student enrollment still on the rise
In the next five years, in turn, some schools will hit capacity, says Pam Holmes Boyd, Eagle County School District spokeswoman.
“Every three years, the school district has roughly enough kids to fill an entirely new school,” Boyd says. “Elementary schools in the district are designed to hold approximately 450 students. The school district will have to start planning to build new ones.”
As the number of births continues to climb in Eagle County, enrollment increases have been a huge factor in the school district’s budget over the past few years. In 1995, for example, there were 437 births in the county; by 1999, that number had climbed to 717.
During the past 10 years, the Eagle County School District has seen consistent enrollment growth, too, with percentages ranging from a high of 10.9 percent growth in 1995-96 to a low of 2.9 percent in 1996-97. For the coming school year, 2002-03, district officials anticipate an enrollment increase of more than 3.5 percent – or about 174 new students.
“At some point you have to see where you’re going to put all these kids,” Boyd says.
Last fall, the school district opened three new schools – Brush Creek Elementary School in Eagle, Red Hill Elementary School in Gypsum and Gypsum Creek Middle School.
“These buildings alleviated overcrowding in the lower Eagle Valley and took the pressure off at the middle-school level,” Boyd says. “Now the enrollment increases are causing space pinches at Edwards elementary and Avon elementary. Additionally, both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools are approaching capacity.”
Other school districts in the state also are experiencing enrollment increases.
“Colorado is a high-growth area, and there is a correlation between Colorado growing as a state and school-age population growth,” explains Karen Strakbein, director of finance for school district, adding that Glenwood Springs, by contrast doesn’t see large annual enrollment increases.
“Their kindergarten class is about the same size as the senior class,” Strakbein said. “Summit County has been growing, but not as aggressively as we have been.”
Why the growth?
The biggest single factor affecting enrollment growth the number of births, in Eagle County, doubling from about 400 births in 1990 to more than 800 births in 2001.
“There is a direct correlation between birth rate and kindergarten enrollment, five years later. Birth rate is by far the large factor in our enrollment increase. These are the kids that are here, in this valley, today,” says Strakbein. “Coupled with that is our kindergarten class this year had 200 more kids than our graduating senior class.”
For 2002-03, the incoming kindergarten class is projected to be 475 students – almost double the outgoing senior class of 240.
In addition, there are several projects on the drawing board that will increase enrollment even more, Boyd says, including:
– Eagle County officials already have approved 2,400 housing units at the Village in Avon.
– In Gypsum, officials have approved 467 housing units at Cotton Ranch and another 900 at Buckhorn Valley.
“The school board will have to decide when to go to voters and ask for money to build new schools,” Boyd says. “You have to start planning two years ahead because that’s how much it takes to plan and build a school. We’re in the planning to plan phase.”
The school district is already planning to build an elementary school at the Berry Creek 5th project in Edwards followed by a high school there, says School Board President Barbara Schierkolk. Proposals for the high school include construction of a vocational high school or a new Battle Mountain High School, with the existing high school building becoming a middle school and Minturn Middle School being converted to a magnet school, Boyd adds.
“We don’t know yet what to do,” adds Schierkolk. “We need to see studies, talk to the community, and have focus groups.”
To address these issues, the school board has commissioned a Long-Term Facility Master Planning Committee to look at future needs and make recommendations regarding a future bond issue. The committee will study enrollment data and local growth projections. Additionally, the committee has been charged with looking at the issue of optimum school size.
Bond issue likely
When it decides to build the new schools, the school district has the capacity to borrow the necessary money, Boyd says.
“By law, the school district’s maximum bonding capacity is limited at no more than 20 percent of its entire assessed valuation. We are nowhere near that limit,” she explains.
The district’s legal debt limit is more than $381 million,” Boyd says. “Its outstanding bonded debt is almost $79 million.
“Because some of our outstanding bonds will be paid off, the district could take on additional debt and minimize the impact to the individual taxpayer,” Boyd says. “Usually, when the district asks the voters to approve a bond issue, it means asking them to increase taxes.”
Brush Creek and Red Hill elementary schools cost approximately $9 million each to build. Gypsum Creek Middle School’s construction cost was even more – approximately $13 million.
Voters would be asked to either approve a smaller increase or to simply approve debt that would keep their taxes at the current level rather than decrease them.
“Because we are still in the discussion phase,” Boyd says, “we haven’t yet generated hard numbers on this proposal.”
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.