Vail Daily column: A new day for our schools
December 6, 2016
Later this week, the Board of Education will head to Colorado Springs for the annual conference of the Colorado Association of School Boards. Hundreds of board members from around the state will gather to talk best practices when it comes to board leadership, as well as share ideas on how to move their organizations forward and improve outcomes for students.
With certainty, there will be numerous meetings and conversations about funding for schools in Colorado. The outlook for this next fiscal year does not look good, with the governor's budget (an early indication of where the state is headed in terms of financial decisions) coming in with recommendations to fund schools at a lower rate than student growth and inflation. More precisely, our local school district will almost certainly enroll more students and incur more expenses, but increases from the state will not keep pace with these increased costs.
The governor's budget is just one piece of the budget puzzle and should just be considered a starting point. The real work on the state budget gets moving when the legislature reconvenes in January. The governor's budget might be a best-case scenario, as the legislature may end up funding schools well below student-growth plus inflation, further increasing the size of a budgeting slight of hand called the "negative factor," where the legislature inserts constitutionally required funding at the top of the ledger, and then sucks it back out at the bottom.
For school systems across the state, already cut to the bone post-recession, talk will again turn to furlough days (days off without pay for teachers and staff), pay freezes or cuts, staffing reductions resulting in higher class sizes, deferring improvements in facilities or buses, and even four-day school weeks. For many places, it is going to be a bleak spring, planning for painful and deep cuts.
Where other school districts will be further rationing resources for already starved systems, our school district will be making key improvements, adding staff and giving our people a livable wage in our community.
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Fortunately for Eagle County, our local school system will be in an entirely different situation.
Our voters passed ballot question 3A, a mill levy override for an increase in the district's operational resources — things such as increased pay for our teachers and staff, hiring more teachers and upgrading our instructional technology and transportation fleet.
Where other school districts will be further rationing resources for already starved systems, our school district will be making key improvements, adding staff and giving our people a livable wage in our community. The impact of this tremendous gift has not yet fully been realized, but 3A is a game changer.
Similarly, voters also passed ballot question 3B, a bond initiative to make key building improvements and expansions. We already have engineers, architects, surveyors and construction experts crawling all over our buildings and we'll break ground on a number of projects in just a few months. Our bidding process also gave a preference for firms with a local participation plan, keeping money and jobs in the community.
When other communities are going to be letting their facilities go and deferring needed replacements for yet another year, we'll be literally transforming our sites into state of the art schools.
These two ballot questions are tremendous gifts from our community to its children.
The election of 2016 brought a number of surprises. Some of these were welcome and celebrated, and others not — depending on your political persuasion. But, make no mistake, 3A and 3B bring about a new day for our community schools, just when we needed it most.
We remain grateful, beyond what words can fully express.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.