The work ahead
This column has corrected a previous editing error that confused Eagle Valley High School and Eagle Valley Elementary School.
This past week, the Board of Education heard a briefing from polling and election consultants about the viability of a pair of tax proposals for Eagle County Schools that the board is considering. The results were encouraging, and seemed to show strong positive support and a pathway to additional resources for our local schools in November.
In some ways, the positive polling results were not surprising. We’ve worked hard to put forth both a mill levy override proposal (for ongoing expenses like teacher salaries and building maintenance) and a bond proposal (for renovations and school construction projects) that is informed by the community’s values. For the past three years, we’ve been investing time meeting with groups all across the community and taking the time to make sure our proposals are both what Eagle County wants and needs for its schools.
The mill levy override achieved slightly better polling results than the bond proposal. The fact that we are going to devote the lion’s share of the funds to attracting and retaining quality teachers and staff resonated with prospective voters. In addition to being clear and up front about where the funds would be used, we’ve also worked to include a series of accountability provisions such as a citizen oversight committee, clarifying that none of these funds would be used to pay for senior district administration, and a sunset provision by which the funds could be taken away by voters in the future.
The mill levy override proposal has the potential to make a dramatic and immediate impact on a problem our community has had for decades — the inability to recruit and retain teaching staff.
The bond proposal also polled positively, but needs a little refinement. Our proposal includes major renovations to Eagle Valley High School (Gypsum) and Red Sandstone Elementary (Vail), as well as reconstruction for the Eagle Valley Middle School/Eagle Valley Elementary School campus (Eagle), and improvements to security and energy efficiency systems in all school buildings. The polling revealed that in our effort to be transparent and clear, we were also overwhelming people with detail. Tightening up the possible ballot language helped with that and we will adjust our proposal going forward.
The bond proposal will address some critical needs across the community. In particular, the proposed Eagle Valley High School expansion project in Gypsum is a serious need. We expect an additional 500 students to attend Eagle Valley High School over the next five years, which will create about a 300-student capacity shortage. Any student who currently attends Eagle Valley High School already knows that the hallways are fairly crowded between classes. We’re pretty confident this wave of students is coming because they are in our middle school classes currently. If we don’t do something to address this capacity issue, we’re going to have to ring the current Eagle Valley High School building with temporary trailer classrooms — not something we want for the center of Gypsum or for our students.
Together, these proposals (as they currently stand) would add less than $40 per year, per $100,000 of assessed value, to residential property taxes. Commercial taxes would be higher than this estimate due to the effects of the Gallagher Amendment to the state constitution.
Anti-tax sentiment is the strongest polling counter-argument to the district’s proposals. I get it — no one likes the idea of more taxes. However, our reality is that if we don’t do something locally to address our funding needs, we’re going to continue to struggle attracting and retaining quality staff, and we’re going to have serious building and overcrowding issues. We just can’t wait for the state to solve our problems. Ultimately, the voters will need to decide if the value proposition of quality and adequately funded local schools is a worthy long-term investment for the community.
Going forward, we’ll continue to discuss the district’s proposals in several community meetings throughout the summer as we work to further shape what will be the final proposal. Information about the proposals, polling results, and frequently asked questions are available on the home page of the school district website (www.eagleschools.net) and under the District Info menu, “2016 Election Initiatives.”
The Board of Education will make the decision about whether or not to be on the 2016 election ballot in August. Once that happens, school district employees (including myself) are prohibited from advocating for or against anything that will appear on the ballot, although we can still answer questions.
We’ve worked hard to put forth a proposal that is the right fit for Eagle County and because of that, it was no surprise the viability polling came back positive. The voters will have the ultimate say on these matters in what will inevitably be a crowded November ballot. Until then, we’ll keep working hard to bring forth a quality proposal and make sure questions from the community are addressed.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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