Ideas fly after school funds denied

School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz was surprised to receive several phone calls Wednesday morning from people offering to volunteer at schools, help the district cut its budget, or speak to legislators about changing the state funding formula so the district would be allocated more money.

“It was very gratifying,” Schultz said the day after voters shot down Referred Measure 3B, which would have provided the district with an additional $12.5 million, estimated, in local property tax revenue each year for six years.

One email Schultz received Wednesday contained a few cost-saving suggestions from Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, who supported 3B. Rowland said the first idea she had to cover some of the state budget cuts expected for District 51 next year was to see if the 14,415 voters who voted in favor of the measure were still willing to contribute to the district’s nonprofit foundation.

“If they all committed to paying $10 a month or whatever (3B) would have been for them, it’s not the $12 million, but it’s something that could help,” Rowland said.

She also suggested the district try a program the county used to find efficient ways to speed up paperwork and avoid outdated mandates for how that work is done and suggested the district utilize volunteers as much as possible.

Rowland added county commissioners have directed Mesa County Administrator Chantal Unfug to explore ways the county, District 51, the city of Grand Junction and possibly other local municipalities could partner on costs such as building and grounds maintenance to save each entity money.

Grand Junction City Manager Laurie Kadrich said the city already partners with the district on the upkeep of three gyms and the pool at Orchard Mesa Middle School and has more than 50 partnerships with the county.

Kadrich said the city may be willing to partner on more items that relate to “day-to-day needs” for each entity.

“We looked at shared purchasing, if there is a way we could consolidate purchasing decisions,” Kadrich said. “We’re trying to evaluate that now.”

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke said Wednesday the chamber’s board supported 3B but never relied on it as the organization’s only idea for improving the local education system.

She said the Mesa County Business Education Foundation just last week discussed better ways to market The 500 Plan, a program conceived last year by a chamber group. The 500 Plan recruits community volunteers to read with local elementary students for one hour a week.

“We’re looking at (getting) a billboard, social media, going to service clubs” to promote the plan and gather new volunteers, Schwenke said.

Schultz said he is open to more suggestions and help from citizens. The district will host community forums on budget issues in January and February and the School Board will consider inviting 12 to 15 community members to form a budget advisory committee.

State Sen. Steve King, who endorsed 3B, said Wednesday he is open to suggestions, especially any that would get more funding to Mesa County outside the state funding formula. The formula provides the district with the lowest funding per student in the state.

King said he believes changing the state funding formula to get District 51 more money is “a pipe dream” unless larger, Front Range districts are on board with a change.

“I’m happy to bang my head against that wall some more, but I don’t think we’re going to get anything but my head hurt and bleeding,” he said.


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