Vail Daily column: Help us shape proposal
I became superintendent of Eagle County Schools in the summer of 2013. Now, approaching three full years in this role, I’m very proud of the progress we’ve been able to make.
We established a forward-looking vision for our schools based on feedback from our community and research the district has done to evaluate the best performing education systems.
Our strategic plan is focused on four simple concepts: One, support and empower teachers; two, engage the learner; three, teach all kids to high standards; and, four, aggressively confront student poverty.
Our community has played an important role in helping the district identify and prioritize our operating and facility needs, and develop cost-effective solutions. Multiple town hall events, community leader meetings, district and school accountability meetings, roundtable discussions with civic and business organizations, and other important outreach efforts have supported the development of our long-term plans.
In the community outreach meetings I have attended, most district residents have been surprised to learn that state funding for our schools has been cut by more than $40 million in the past five years. They know that state funding has continued to shrink, but not by this much. Many district residents are also unaware of the magnitude of the staffing, safety, school building capacity and facility maintenance challenges we face, given our current budget.
Many of our residents are also surprised to learn that Eagle County Schools has yet to receive any marijuana tax monies. These funds are put into a state-level grant fund. The money is distributed to selected schools and districts around the state and areas with lower property values get a bigger slice of the available dollars, competing with over 170 other school districts in the state. We are not counting on these dollars to address our growing operating and facility needs.
Fortunately, what I have also learned is that our community understands the importance of quality schools — both for our kids and our community. Our community understands that our world is changing. Jobs are evolving. Our children face a new level of competition and other complex challenges. Sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the state to solve our local funding challenges is likely not a winning strategy for our community’s children. There is simply too much at stake.
In 2006, a voter-approved bond funded facility improvements districtwide. At that time, a special focus was placed on facility needs in Edwards. Bond projects included Battle Mountain High School, June Creek Elementary School and Red Canyon High School (Edwards).
Ten years later, there is again a need to address critical building improvement projects districtwide. However, at this time, the greatest facility needs are on the west end of the district where schools are operating well beyond capacity.
To address Eagle County Schools’ highest priority educational and facility needs, the Board of Education is considering placing a mill levy override and bond measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The decision to place these questions on the ballot will be made by the Board of Education this August, providing time for additional community input on this decision. Nothing is set in stone at this time.
In the next few weeks we will be sending out mailers to inform the community and conducting a public opinion mail survey to gather more insight. I hope that you will participate. Your thoughts and recommendations will help us shape a proposal that is right for both our students and our taxpayers.
As a preview, the Board of Education is considering two possible tax questions for the November ballot. One question is called a mill levy override and is used for ongoing expenses like teacher salaries. Another question is called a bond and is used for one-time efforts like school building construction and major renovations.
On the mill levy side, we’d like to direct funds right into the classroom. We would use these funds to attract and retain quality teachers and staff with more competitive compensation. We want to restore many of the programs and services (things like music, art, and counseling) that we lost during the recession. And we would provide for things like curricular purchases — as well as keeping our buildings and transportation fleet safe and up to date.
We know our community wants accountability for where its funds will go. That’s why we’re adding in a sunset provision that enables voters to decide if the funds remain available at a defined point in the future. We would also create a citizen oversight committee to evaluate the use of the funds.
On the bond side, we’re looking to make improvements to every district school including critical safety and security upgrades to make our buildings state-of-the-art in that area. We would improve energy efficiency and instructional technology in our buildings. We would also be looking at some specific building construction and improvements for schools in Gypsum, Eagle and Vail.
You’ll be getting a lot more detail about these proposals over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll take the time to learn about them and provide us more feedback on how we can make this the right fit for our community.
As always, you have the final word.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.