Grand Lake Elementary School back on budget chopping block |

Grand Lake Elementary School back on budget chopping block

Tonya Bina
Grand County, CO Colorado

Because of a shift in the East Grand School District budget outlook for the next two years, closing the Fraser Elementary school may be off the table this year, but closing Grand Lake Elementary School is still a budget option, according to a frank discussion school officials had with Grand Lake Town Board members on Monday.

East Grand Superintendent Nancy Karas explained this perspective through district budget numbers. Also in attendance were school board member Barbara Ahrens, school board President Tom Sifers, Grand Lake Elementary Principal Phyllis Price and the school district’s business manager Donette Schmiedbauer.

“If you were a manager in this business, would you keep this business open?” Karas asked town stewards, referring to current budget projections that show Grand Lake Elementary with just 49 students next year.

Each student would cost the district $11,373 to educate, which is $4,940 over the state funding level and the highest cost per-student out of all district schools.

“I ask the board, if these were your books, how would you vote?” she asked during an hour-plus long discussion about possible district budget scenarios.

Consideration of a school closure has returned now that the ad-hoc education committee has decided not to ask taxpayers to support a long-term funding option for schools in November.

If Grand Lake Elementary were to close, the district’s projections show, Granby Elementary School could reflect a decrease in the possible cost per-student – by $1,006 below the state per-pupil funding level. This scenario, estimated to save the district a total of about $317,085, could close the district’s projected budget gap of $315,000 for the 2011-’12 school year.

And because some teachers are leaving the district, “not a single employee of Grand Lake would lose (his or her) job if we closed the school and moved them now,” Karas said.

Another budget scenario shows keeping Grand Lake Elementary school open and cutting one full-time and one part-time staff member, Karas explained. Grand Lake Elementary would have combined classes for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5, and could upon board approval return to a four-day school week.

Karas warned that parents may not want combined classes for their students. If that’s the case, more parents might lobby the school board to allow students to go to Granby instead

Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke likened that to “raping the Grand Lake school to take them to Granby.”

Education business

Grand Lake Trustee Benton Johnson criticized the district for its labor costs, in that over half of the district’s budget goes to salaries and benefits.

Karas reminded Johnson that the business of education is made up of people, and that the product is knowledge delivered by people. Karas said schools statewide average spending 75 percent to 80 percent of their budgets on salaries and benefits.

The superintendent went on to say that East Grand schools perform poorly in one area: That in accordance with population, it funds “more schools than any other district in the state of Colorado.”

Both Karas and Sifers reminded town board members that the district’s obligation is to utilize resources prudently to support all 1,200 students in the district.

Karas asked town officials to understand the district’s budget outlook and to “partner” on the future of the Grand Lake building, if there is a school closure. With its gym and other spaces, the building could remain in use as a community center, the superintendent said.

Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale pointed out how past district decisions have hurt the viability of the Grand Lake school, such as open enrollment, sending sixth-graders to the middle school, and temporarily sending fifth-graders to Granby.

Four to six students from the Grand Lake area are presently “grandfathered in” to attend Granby Elementary School.

Johnson, who has three grandchildren attending school in Grand Lake and two in Granby, said “(If) you close that school down in Grand Lake, it will kill us as a community. People who normally come here with kids to work in our businesses and live in our community no longer will.”

“Not to be sarcastic, please don’t take it this way. But why aren’t they here now?” Karas asked.

Although Grand Lake still has “tons and tons” to offer young families, such as a safe environment and a healthy lifestyle, perhaps Grand Lake needs more job opportunities and more affordable housing for families to thrive, the superintendent suggested.

Although Grand Lake has affordable housing policies in place, what purpose do they serve “now that everybody is moving to Granby,” Mayor Judy Burke said.

“I feel very strongly, if it closes, the cycle perpetuates, the demographics shift and (the town) becomes a retirement community,” said PTA member Lisa Simpson, a citizen in the audience.

PTA president Christina Heil asked district officials in the room not to make a decision on school closure until learning results of state-level initiatives for education. “There’s a lot that could change,” she said.

And with the district’s latest change in course, the Grand Lake Town Board was given much to consider. Town board members were not ready to make any decisions about the town’s $20,000 pledge as part of the community’s challenge to keep schools open for the next two years.

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603