Guest opinion: A case for Grand Lake Elementary
May 19, 2011
East Grand School District (EGSD) has been presented with the unenviable task of making continued cuts to education over the past three years. As with any other entity, business or family in Grand County, this board has been asked to continue to balance its budget with fewer dollars, while still attempting to preserve its core mission. With help from the District Accountability Committee (DAC), these cuts have been made to a large degree with precision and forethought. This painful process resulted in numerous staff layoffs; somehow the remaining personnel have ensured the continued delivery of quality education for our kids. Thank goodness for our excellent teachers.
The EGSD should be commended for the tough decisions that they’ve made up to this point, but EGSD is no longer faced with a spending problem – millions have been cut and there still isn’t enough money. Instead, we must face the fact that we have a revenue issue – there simply isn’t enough money to provide the education that we’d like to provide. This slash-and-cut mentality is a vicious cycle, and I fear that we’ll be discussing the closure of Fraser Elementary in a few years if we don’t change the conversation now; we can’t cut our way to prosperity.
As a point of recent history, when faced with a projected $1 million operational deficit for the 2011/2012 school year, the DAC recommended closing Fraser and Grand Lake Elementary schools (as well as the alternative of closing the Middle School). A true crisis indeed, EGSD was immediately blessed with a county-wide show of support. Parents, business owners and community leaders all came together to help find funding solutions for the EGSD, including raising $500,000 as a match for EGSD’s $500,000, to jointly cover the deficit while a long term funding solutions could be researched. An ad hoc committee was formed from among the funding partners and research began in earnest.
Upon receiving news that the projected deficit had been reduced to $315,000 for 2011/2012, and to $627,000 for the 2012/2013 school year, this committee recommended that no taxing question be put on the ballot in November, as the $1 million deficit could be spread over two school years, and more solutions could be researched in the interim, with any measure going to the citizens in 2012.
Somehow this recommendation has been lost, and instead of continuing on the same path with the community towards addressing the true issue of diminishing revenues, EGSD informed Grand Lake that its elementary school was once again on the chopping block. Months of community good will gone in a flash, with only resentment, fear and mistrust left in its place.
For Grand Lake Elementary (GLE) itself, there is no denying it costs more to educate a student here than in our other community schools. However, that has always been and will always be the case. It is a small school, so the economies of scale that can be achieved with larger facilities will never be realized at GLE, as true today as it was 30 years ago when it was built.
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Notwithstanding this fact, the numbers aren’t as out of whack as have been presented. GLE is projected to make up 3.8 percent of the student population, and 4.4 percent of EGSD’s budget. Combine this with the fact that the Three Lakes area contributes 28 percent of the $9 million collected locally, or over $2.5 million each year to EGSD, one quickly determines that portrayal of GLE as a drag on EGSD is fiction. After paying $475,000 in 2012 for GLE, there is still over $2 million left, enough to entirely fund any other school in EGSD with the exception of the high school.
Finally, it should be pointed out that Grand County has already sent a check to EGSD in the amount of $170,000, bringing the deficit for next year down to $145,000, 1.3 percent of the $10.7 million budget, in a district that has built its reserve by nearly $650,000 from 2010 to 2012.
Instead of fostering and growing the community good will and working in tandem to identify long-term funding solutions for EGSD, the current approach is to alienate an entire community with broken promises, continue to slash and fix nothing, all in order to shore up a $145,000 deficit. We deserve better.