It’s about community | SkyHiNews.com

It’s about community

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi News
Fraser, CO Colorado

Parents, residents and second-home owners in the Fraser Valley are struggling to understand why the school district would consider closing Fraser Valley Elementary School in the face of a $1.2 million budget shortfall.

Setting aside the school district’s financial arguments, residents of the Fraser Valley community have come up with more than a dozen compelling reasons to save their school.

Whether it’s the emotion around putting a kid on long bus ride, the inconvenience of having kids so far away during the day, concern for loss of volunteer involvement, fear for the economic viability of the towns or business owner concerns about employees leaving, the vocal majority of the community seems to feel strongly enough about the school to support spending more taxpayer money to save it.

Community leaders have pulled together in recent weeks in search of a solution, and their first and greatest hope is to keep things the way they are now by unifying all the county’s residents in finding a long-term funding solution.

The issue isn’t just about putting little kids on a bus to Granby, said David Michel, who has a law office in Winter Park and a 4-year-old and third-grader at Fraser Elementary.

“It’s about stopping into the school in the middle of the day to see my kid’s 10-minute presentation on Einstein,” he said.

The kids are all going to ride a bus to Granby eventually, he said.

“But there’s a big difference between parental involvement at a younger age – when the kids want you to be there – and when they get older and want independence. Parents want to be an integral part of the classroom. It’s a critical time in terms of establishing the kids’ relationship with education.”

Andrew Chasin – who has lived in the valley for seven years, sits on the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District Board and has a third- and a fourth-grader – said he personally drops the kids off at school every morning and picks them up in the afternoon. He stops by in the middle of the day when something special is going on in one of his kid’s classrooms, as do many other parents.

The commute to Granby would not only take him away from work for too long, he said, it would cut into his kid’s after school programs, which generally run from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

“There would be a big ripple effect that would definitely impact their lives,” he said.

The later activities are fine for older kids who can stay up later and function better later in the day, he added.

Parent Bethany Baker said she, too, worries about the amount of time her young child would spend away from home if the elementary school was in Granby and how the commute time would cut into her child’s free time and time to do homework in the evenings.

“When will our children get to participate in after-school activities/programs?” she asked. “When will they do homework? When they get home they will be burned out from the bus ride and how can they be expected to sit down again to practice spelling, reading, do their writing assignments.”

Baker added that she helps out with school parties and volunteers in the classroom once a week; “but I also work in Denver.”

Steve Radcliffe retired in Fraser about 6 years ago and doesn’t have any children at Fraser Elementary. But he does volunteer, teaching advanced math to fifth-graders once a week.

“Fraser Elementary isn’t just a school. It is a community center,” he said. “When I go over there to teach, I run into everyone I know. I will bet there are 25-30 signatures on the volunteer page every day. It is a wonderful and vibrant school. … If we close the school all of that energy from volunteers and parents will evaporate. I will not go to Granby to volunteer. I am sure I am not the only volunteer who feels that way.”

If the school closes, valley residents are already exploring options for a future charter school, a new school district and even a separate county. Many say they will leave the area, seek employment elsewhere.

“I can work anywhere,” said Chasin, who telecommutes and whose wife Kelly runs Peak Pediatrics in Winter Park, which also has offices on the Front Range.

“There is a definite possibility that if the schools close we might be one of those families that give up on the dream and move,” he said. “And we just built a house. This is our dream of a place to live – in a nice community out of the city where we don’t have to worry about anything. We live up here for quality of life and a lifestyle.

“But, start taking a lot of that stuff away, and you start to question why you are making all these sacrifices.”

Chasin’s strong feelings about choosing where to live because of the schools are shared by many other parents, even some who don’t have children in the system yet.

“I can’t believe that this plan is even being talked about,” said Montana Cramer, who lives with her husband and 2-year-old son in Fraser. “My husband and I love the town of Fraser, it’s a little more expensive to live here, but after weighing the pros and cons we decided this would be where we started and raised our family.

“However, closing Fraser Elementary and restructuring the grade levels would be a deal breaker for us; we would just have to move out of the county because our child’s education is far more important then our love for this small mountain ski town.”

Winter Park business owners Hans and Hannelore Eichler said that while they don’t have kids in the school district anymore, they worry about retaining quality employees if the local school closes. They said they have at least several employees who would be certain to leave. And, when kids get sick, parents would have to miss work for more than an hour to go pick them up, which would put a hardship on the business, Hans said.

Michel also said he can choose to live anywhere he wants.

“I’ve got work in other places. I could move to other resorts. Would I move right away? No, but if I felt like this would be a drag going back and forth to Granby, I might consider it.”

Michel said he has been helping the community group research and draft a proposal for a 1-percent, county-wide sales tax increase to fund education.

Such a tax could raise an estimated $3 million for education in Grand County, more than enough to keep all the schools open and bring back quality programs, according to proponents.

In support of the sales tax, Grand Park developer Clark Lipscomb, who has been heavily involved in researching solutions to the school’s funding problem, argues that if people leave the Fraser Valley because the school there closes – and he estimates it could be as many as 100 students – that the entire school district would feel that impact.

And, although it would give Winter Park the highest sales tax in the state (more than Aspen, Vail or Breckenridge) even business owners like the Eichlers and Stacey Rosacci, owner of The Salon at Winter Park, believe it’s likely the best solution as long as the school district is looking for ways to cut spending at the same time.

Even some second-home owners are jumping on the bandwagon, claiming that they are willing to make financial sacrifices to support the school district, like Bill Hardardt: “And, I don’t even get a vote here.”


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