Board votes to close Grand Lake Elementary School |

Board votes to close Grand Lake Elementary School

Tonya Bina
Grand Lake, CO Colorado
Grand Lake Elementary Principal Phyllis Price talks to students at the beginning of school on Tuesday morning regarding the decision to close the school at the end of the current school year. Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

The East Grand Board of Education voted 4-2 Monday night to close Grand Lake Elementary School as a budget-slashing measure despite impassioned pleas to keep the 32-year-old school open.

Board member Barbara Ahrens of the Grand Lake area and board member Joan Evans of the Fraser Valley area cast the dissenting votes.

Two members of the board who cast votes to close the school were accused of having conflicts of interest for being district employees – Hot Sulphur Springs representative Mike Thompson and Granby representative Melissa Quinn. Thompson made the motion to close the school and Quinn seconded the motion.

Thompson is employed as a bus mechanic in the transportation department. His salary is partially paid for through the school’s mill levy-supported transportation fund, and Quinn is employed as a computer technician.

Both were elected in November of 2007 and ran unopposed. When Quinn was elected, she was not yet an East Grand School District employee, according to District officials.

School Board President Tom Sifers said officials checked with the district’s attorney and were told voting on this particular budget item was not a conflict of interest. Sifers added that it didn’t mean the board shouldn’t review the policy for the future.

Mike Periolat, a Winter Park Town Council member, brought the perceived conflict-of-interest issue to the forefront before votes were cast to close the school.

After Periolat had said his piece, district teacher and coach Christine DuBois-Miller reminded all in the packed boardroom that it was the voters themselves who elected the board members.

“This does affect, in the long run, your salaries,” Evans said, addressing both Thompson and Quinn.

The decision

“We’ve been jerking Grand Lake around,” Evans said.

And Ahrens said she felt the district owed Grand Lake another year to absorb the news the school would be closed.

In light of the “tremendous outpouring” of community support the district received to keep schools open, Ahrens said, “A little under three weeks ago, I think we broke faith with the community … And if we’re going to close a school, for God’s sake, give them a year’s warning. Not 10 days.”

“I’m here for the other side of the community,” said Thompson, the side of the community that advocates “keeping our reserves intact.”

Thompson said he’d heard from Grand Lake parents who don’t want to be forced to enroll students in Grand Lake when the parents work in Granby, and who don’t want to enroll students in a school that has shared grade levels in classrooms.

“Do the needs of a few outweigh the needs of many?” Quinn asked, advocating spending district resources on education district-wide.

Board member Gale Delphia seemed uncertain about how she would vote. At first it appeared she would vote for closure, then when she spoke again, it seemed she might be on the side of Ahrens.

“Barb struck a chord with me,” Delphia said. “I believe the responsible thing to do is close the school, but I personally have a problem with doing it at such a late date. If that school closes, it is going to be a loss to the community, staff, teachers and primarily kids,” she said.

District Superintendent Nancy Karas encouraged Grand Lake community members to continue seeking ways to reopen the school.

“Closing a building for one year is not going to make it where you can’t reopen,” she said.

“But mentally, it would be hard for the students to go back there,” Evans said.

The decision to close Grand Lake Elementary reflects a $231,308 savings to the district’s 2011-12 budget, now that the district’s May 17 draft budget reflects certain expenses added back in, such as computer supplies and teacher development costs. The projected deficit on the draft $10.6 million operating budget, with closure of the Grand Lake school, now sits at $104,800.

Athletics, activities

To try and reach a goal of offsetting $35,000 in the athletics and activities budget, district officials voted to cut two programs from next year’s high school sports offerings: girls softball and boys golf.

Before the vote, volunteer softball coach P.J. Holmes refuted information supplied by the District Accountability Committee that participation in girls softball was in jeopardy, saying at least 15 girls have showed interest. He also said softball supporters were willing to fundraise for the sport, and that he was willing to volunteer or even donate his salary.

But Middle Park High School Principal Jane Harmon said the precedent set by having coaches donate salaries back would be unsustainable. “It’s unfair as a district to say we want coaches to do that,” she said.

Board members voted to eliminate softball despite some audience members suggesting the district would lose students as a result.

Board member Evans cast the sole dissenting vote.

Meanwhile, no one spoke for or against eliminating the boys golf program, which was recently added to school cuts to optimize the district’s Title 9 compliance and for the need to meet budgetary goals.

In a separate vote, board members chose to not increase the district’s $70 materials fee, but did increase the athletics fees by 25 percent, to $120 per athlete. Family athletic fees will be paid on a sliding scale, board members decided.

Teacher compensation

The board unanimously chose to freeze teacher salaries for the third consecutive year. But the decision to freeze salaries for other district employees was tabled because the board did not have the necessary quorum to make a decision.

Board members Quinn and Thompson abstained from the vote because they are district employees. Board member Ahrens had left the building after the vote to close Grand Lake Elementary School, leaving the board without a quorum.

Asked the next day why she had left before board business had been completed, Ahrens twice declined to comment.

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