Vail Daily news: Thanks from a grateful board president |

Vail Daily news: Thanks from a grateful board president

Kate Cocchiarella

It is long overdue that I use this forum to express my deepest thanks to this community. I have had the honor of serving on the Eagle County Schools Board of Education for seven years and am now well into my second year in the role of board president.

In this capacity, it is my privilege to represent Eagle County Schools in saying “thank you” and “muchas gracias” for supporting our mission and efforts to deliver global-ready graduates. Voters, taxpayers, families, businesses and community partners are all a part of our success. There are not enough words to express the depth of my gratitude for the supportive and generous community that surrounds us.

We are coming to the end of our budgeting process for the 2017-18 school year. This work takes place over several months. The administration provides the board with budget drafts and feedback after conversation and negotiation takes place among departments and teams within the district. We are implementing a system for expenditure evaluation that combines return on investment metrics and our strategic plan priorities.

Expenditures are evaluated on a rubric to help eliminate subjective biases in the selection process and validate decisions in an effort to be strategic with our limited funds. The board and the administration receive input from many sources: District Accountability Committee, the Student Advocacy Team, Finance and Oversight Committees, department heads, the Eagle County Education Association and community members. In addition, we hold public hearings as part of our board meetings to get more input and feedback on the budget as it is developed.

The Board of Education and the administration of Eagle County Schools take the work of education seriously. We value fiscal responsibility and transparency. We appreciate the guidance of our Finance Committee and 3A/3B Oversight Committee. These community members have strong financial backgrounds, but each one brings varied areas of expertise and experience to the table. Their input is a critical part of our process.

We also receive regular input from the District Accountability Committee, which is made up of representatives from each school from up and down the valley, including principals, teachers, students and community members. They learn about the current state of the district and formulate recommendations for spending priorities. Most recently, we have received input from the Student Advocacy Group. These passionate and articulate young women and men are helping us shape their education. My gratitude to these dedicated folks is deep, genuine and sincere.

In my seven years on the board, we’ve had times when we had to make significant cuts, such as those made in the wake of the Great Recession. We worked to try to keep funding cuts away from impacting students as much as possible, but the magnitude of those budget shortfalls made that impossible. I vividly remember the budgeting sessions where we had to make those difficult cuts. There was no escaping the fiscal cliff in front of us; times were tough for everyone.

Hard choices had to be made, deep cuts were made across the organization, and all felt these cuts. However, the board was committed to a balanced budget and we kept Eagle County Schools in the black. Schools worked harder with less funding, always doing what was in the best interest of our kids. Our educators are passionate, hardworking and dedicated professionals who have been working under difficult conditions. I am in awe of the work they do and the difference they can make in the lives of children.

Today, thanks to the passage of 3A and 3B, the mil levy override and bond funds granted to us by the voters, we are having conversations about how best to direct funding in order to improve outcomes for children. We are passionate about the work we do: educating future generations to be globally competitive, engaged citizens and problem solvers.

The funds generated by the mill levy override are already having a tremendously positive impact on our operations and schools, providing each building with additional resources. Staffing levels are improved, and jobs that were empty are getting filled. The result is that our kids will have more contact with music, the arts, counseling, physical education and updated curricular materials; our teachers will be paid competitively and receive relevant and valuable training; and our entire community will reap the benefits.

In addition, bond funds are making big improvements to our facilities. Our children deserve safe buildings designed for today’s learners. Capital improvements range from safety upgrades to energy-saving infrastructure to additions that accommodate increases in student enrollment and provide state-of-the-art learning environments. The work that this community has made possible will impact the lives of young people for years to come. I can’t say thank you enough for all of these improvements.

We live in a complex and changing world, and we are working to evolve our educational system into one of which we can be proud. This task cannot be done alone. It is overwhelming to me at times, when I realize the enormity of the task we are trying to achieve: teach all children to have creative and active minds, compassion for others, enthusiasm for lifelong learning and the courage to act on their dreams.

We are proud of our relationships and value what our partners bring to the table. I hope that these few words begin to convey the gratitude I feel for this community, a community that believes education and the future of our children are a priority.

Kate Cocchiarella is the president of the Eagle County Board of Education. She’s writing this week in place of Eagle County Schools Superintendent Jason Glass.

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