Vail Valley Voices: You bet school district cries foul over Avon land deal
Vail, CO, Colorado
Millions of dollars are at stake for Eagle County Schools.
Over 13 years ago, Traer Creek approached the town of Avon with plans for a development.
When a developer approaches a town regarding a development, they are required to give land or cash in lieu to offset the effects of the public costs of their development, including schools, water, sewage and streets. This is a long-standing state statute.
The spirit of the state annexation statute is that upon annexation, the municipality is to consider “the effect of annexation upon the local public school district systems” (Sec. 31-12-108.5, C.R.S.).
Some municipalities address this impact by requiring developers to dedicate land or cash in lieu thereof directly to the local school district, but others require the donation to the municipality which, in turn, gives it to the district upon request.
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Eagle County Schools began serious negotiations with Traer Creek in 2003.
The last agreement was for 7.3 acres (in an undetermined location) for a future school to educate students created by the development.
In a new proposed settlement in October 2011 between the Town of Avon and Traer Creek, 3.6 acres of this land will now be given to another entity, with the remaining 3.7 acres to be owned by the town of Avon, leaving Eagle County Schools with no land whatsoever for a future school.
In addition, the town of Avon, without notifying the school district, changed their town ordinance in November 2010 to allow them to give land to a charter school instead of a school district.
This move is questionable in its legality. State law allows a town to require that developers deed land designated for school districts, not individual schools.
This makes sense, since school districts have both the ability and responsibility to provide for all future children in the county.
If the town of Avon wishes to help the charter find a new home, they certainly can do that. However, the town of Avon cannot, in our opinion, deed the district’s land to anyone else. This is an action that potentially leaves the community on the hook for providing for growth in the number of students.
Across the county, we take pride in the fact that we have cooperative relationships with all of the other town governments and developers.
Each of these entities has reached sound agreements with the school district on land or cash in lieu.
Statewide, these agreements are the primary means of acquiring land for school districts to accommodate growth.
Any charter school cannot assume responsibility for future development. It is a district responsibility to provide for the educational needs of all students in the area, not a single school responsibility.
If this proposed settlement is finalized, the other schools and taxpayers in our county will inevitably bear the burden of these future students by having to transport them to other schools, purchase land for future schools or raise taxes through a bond.
Our voters clearly told us to be fiscally transparent and aggressively responsible for every taxpayer dollar, which we take very seriously.
To ignore the fact that the town of Avon and Traer Creek are attempting to give away millions of dollars in land for the school district would be irresponsible.
Sandra Smyser, Ph.D, is the superintendent of the Eagle County School District.