More details emerge about proposal to close East Grand schools | SkyHiNews.com

More details emerge about proposal to close East Grand schools

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado

State education cuts and dwindling federal bailout money funneled through the state is forcing the East Grand School District to consider drastic measures to preserve its reserve and balance its budget for the 2011-2012 school year and beyond.

The closures of both Fraser Elementary and Grand Lake Elementary schools may be a top consideration.

Doing so could save the district an estimated $1.03 million.

This possibility is included in a leading recommendation on ways to make $1.16 million in cuts to the East Grand School District’s budget.

Out of seven possible scenarios on ways to make cuts with the least impact on student education, members of a District Accountability Committee have ranked first a scenario of consolidating the schools to Granby – with preschool through third grade at the Granby Elementary school, grades fourth through seventh at the East Grand Middle School, and eighth through 12th at the Middle Park High School.

The District Accountability outline containing the recommendations is planned to be presented to school board members a the Jan. 18 East Grand School Board meeting.

It will be the first time the Budget and Programs Committee of the District Accountability Committee will present its recommendations to the East Grand School Board.

The outline also states the closure scenario would preserve all special programs and electives for all grades in all schools; whereas other scenarios show cuts to programs such as languages, arts, music, P.E., technology courses and other programs and electives.

The option would also provide for a step in staff pay, ending a three-year salary freeze, and would preserve the district’s reserve. Committee members also recommend adding $100,000 back to the Activities/Athletics budget to help preserve more of those programs.

Even with the consolidation scenario, the district may feel a loss of up to seven teachers and 10 support staff members, loss of 2.5 administrative positions and elimination of three district level director positions, according to the committee’s outline.

The District Accountability Committee has been analyzing ways to cut the 2011-2012 budget since September.

“If we don’t close the schools, the entire (discretionary) budget would be cut,” said Karen Waeschle of the DAC’s Budget and Programs Committee. The committee is made up of staff members, parents and community members from Grand Lake to Winter Park.

The committee was unanimous in ranking the consolidation option as the committee’s top recommendation.

“Everyone knows this is dramatic,” Waeschle said, adding that the committee has studied all options thoroughly and did not arrive at its findings “out of thin air.”

“Yes, this is drastic,” she said. “But if you see the budget – I don’t know what else you can do.”

On Oct. 22, the district was forced to forego $365,000 to a state rescission, which was backfilled by Education Job Funds money and ARRA funds. But even with that backfill, the district experienced a shortfall of $60,000.

In preparation, the district had cut $1 million from the 2010-11 budget in order to preserve its reserves. Those cuts “scratched the surface,” according to East Grand School District Superintendent Nancy Karas, but to cut another $1.15 million will take much deeper measures, she said.

The school district built its budget on a calculation of $6,805 per student funding level of the School Finance Act, but with the October rescission, that number is now closer to $6,461 per student.

Karas said district officials are being told to prepare for another possible state rescission that could drop student funding by another 6 percent.

On top of all this, enrollment is down across the district with about 108 students gone from last year.

Consolidating schools – if the board chooses that direction – would mean both Grand Lake and Fraser Elementary school buildings would become “mothballed,” or “maintained at a condition (in which) we could turn them on, open the doors and start school if we were to have an influx of students,” Karas said.

In the meantime, the Granby Elementary School and the East Grand Middle School would be operating at capacity. A full electives schedule would remain at the high school, and foreign language classes would still be available at the middle school. The consolidation scenario reflects the least amount of teacher lay-offs.

“We approached the whole thing with how to improve the quality of education in Grand County, not just to make cuts to save money,” Waeschle said. Waeschle has three children who attend district schools.

The plan was tailored to comply with the district’s five-year improvement plan that seeks to raise test scores and hold teachers accountable. Consolidating would allow the district to hire more English Language Learners specialists to help in that direction.

“It’s the only plan that does that and saves as many jobs as possible. Yes, it’s an emotional loss. But we’re not the only district in Colorado that’s having to consolidate,” Waeshcle said.

According to the committee’s findings, she said, in comparison with other districts, the East Grand School District is paying far too much on facilities in ratio to its number of students.

“We’re paying more on facilities, less on education,” she said.

Waeschle stressed the district’s financial hardships stem from “a state problem, not a district one.”


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.