West Grand makes case for ballot measure
West Grand High School hasn’t had heating for the last six months.
That wasn’t too much of an issue over the summer, but Dan Bowerly’s classroom dropped to 50 degrees on Monday. Beyond that, West Grand would not have been able to heat his music class and the rest of the school this winter without a $250,000 grant the district received.
At the K-8 school, the heating system is still online but in desperate need of upgrades to keep it running. At least three children have fallen through the high school bleachers in the past four years, posing a safety hazard, but the bleachers haven’t been replaced. The urinals in the boy’s locker room haven’t functioned for at least six years.
After years of deferring maintenance and relying on grants to stay afloat, the West Grand School District is falling apart.
“We’ve already cut ourselves pretty deep,” K-8 Principal Jack Daly said at Tuesday’s community meeting on Ballot Issue 5A. “If we do much more, we’re going to have a hard time providing the basics.”
The ballot measure would increase West Grand’s taxes to raise an additional $550,000 for the district to be used for infrastructure and salaries.
It’s not just the infrastructure that’s been struggling in West Grand. The libraries at both school buildings haven’t been staffed in two years because the schools can’t hire someone to run them.
The district hasn’t been able to hire a math teacher for the middle school, so they share a teacher with the high school. The high school, on the other hand, is short a Spanish teacher, STEM teacher and special education teacher.
Administration worries how many more teachers the district might lose with West Grand’s average teacher salary of $43,086. According to the Colorado Department of Education, down the road at East Grand School District, the average teacher salary is $10,000 more. In the Summit School District, it’s $20,000 more.
“I can’t wait for these teachers,” Interim Superintendent and High School Principal Elizabeth Bauer said. “If we wait, they may not be here tomorrow.”
With roughly 400 students and 80 employees, the West Grand School District doesn’t have the size or money of other districts. But Bauer emphasized that West Grand can no longer continue operating as is.
Bowerly, a music educator with decades of experience, explained during the community meeting that he moved to West Grand to enjoy the quality of life Kremmling offers. He said that the district-wide denials of pay scale increases have been demoralizing, as are the razor-thin classroom budgets.
“Funding for schools is always an issue, but over the course of my 12 years in this district, the lack of funding has been more than I have ever experienced in my 36 years at public schools,” he said. “It makes me feel disrespected and discouraged, but I love what I do.”
Ryan Tripicchio is the social studies teacher for West Grand High School and founded the cross-country program. He explained that currently half his paycheck goes to paying his mortgage and the rest toward groceries and bills despite his efforts to live within his means.
Without this measure, Tripicchio’s not sure how much longer he can stay in the place he has spent eight years building a community in.
“I would love to say that I see myself being able to stay here for a full 30 years and being the next Joe Shields,” Tripicchio said, referencing the teacher, principal, counselor and coach who spent decades at West Grand. “That’s what I would love to be able to say. I don’t know if I can.”
Bauer said that without the ballot measure the district might be looking at further cuts, ones that will be painful to execute. Her examples to reduce spending included combining the high school and middle school or cutting several electives.
“An empty middle school hallway,” Bauer said of what the district might look like if the measure doesn’t pass.
Then there’s the district support staff. West Grand is short a paraprofessional, custodian and bus driver. The district can’t afford to compete for these types of employees when even private businesses in Kremmling struggle to find staffing.
If passed, measure 5A would increase yearly taxes on a $100,000 private property by $32.35 a year. The school board would then work to decide how to allocate the funds to address both deferred maintenance and salary needs.
While Bauer didn’t have a number for how much would go toward teachers and support staff versus maintenance, she said a salary and benefits committee would help determine the specifics. The money would not go toward administrator salaries.
West Grand will be hosting another ballot measure community workshop at 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Kremmling Chamber of Commerce.
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Three East Grand Board of Education positions are up for election this November.