Scenic parents pin hopes on 3B

Fourth-grade teacher Melanie Jensen, left, talks with Lou Wilcox about his 9-year-old daughter Aliya’s progress in her class during parent-teacher conferences Thursday at Scenic Elementary School.

Parents at Scenic Elementary School are depending on Referred Measure 3B to save their children’s school.

There is no guarantee the school at 451 West Scenic Drive will close if School District 51 has to make more budget cuts next year and doesn’t have access to up to $12.5 million from the override question to cushion the blow. The district and its school board members have said any school may be shuttered if the district has to cut $8 million to $10 million, the amount the state currently projects the district may lose in 2012—13.

But the community at Scenic Elementary has feared the school’s demise ever since its longtime principal, Doug Levinson, informed families this summer the school’s declining population, open layout and small size may make it a target for closure. Scenic Parent-Teacher Organization President Jenny Hall said she believes the chances of Scenic closing will be high if the mill levy override does not pass, but slim if it does pass.

“Our hopes lie with 3B. School board members said they wouldn’t feel comfortable closing a school if the override happens,” Hall said.

Scenic Elementary’s 3B supporters have their school and others in mind. If Scenic and/or other schools close, Hall said other schools may have to take on more students and lose more of their own staff to reach the final total for a budget cut.

“We’re going to lose teachers to other districts” if schools get more crowded, she said. “They have a new curriculum, no aids, lower pay—what’s keeping them here?”

Scenic Elementary experienced staff losses firsthand, with their once-full-time music teacher now splitting time between Scenic and Broadway. The PTO also is close to raising $18,500 to pay for four reading assistants and two office staff that were defunded by the district this year.

The chances of raising enough money to pay for the entire school are slim, so Scenic Elementary supporters are depending on 3B to do that for them. The Parent-Teacher Organization handed out 60 “Yes on 3B” yard signs at a barbecue the organization hosted last month, and parents walked with 3B supporters in the Fruita Fall Fest parade and have written letters to news organizations. One woman holds a “Yes on 3B” sign on Broadway during rush hour to spread the word.

Scenic Elementary parent Lou Wilcox said he is “100 percent supportive” of the override.

“I pray every day it passes,” he said. “This is a wonderful school. It would be a shame to see it closed.”

Jill Burkey, who has a third-grader and a fifth-grader at Scenic Elementary, moved back to Grand Junction in July after leaving the area in February to live in Nebraska. She said her children wanted to return to Scenic because “it has academics and a great community.”

“People want to work here, people want to volunteer here,” Burkey said. “It’s a hard time to ask people for money, but you shouldn’t even think of it as a property tax increase. It’s still going to be less than what they paid in 2010.”

Charter school a possibility

If 3B doesn’t pass, District 51 Board of Education member Greg Mikolai said Scenic Elementary is not guaranteed a death notice. But tough decisions about all schools will have to be made if state predictions of $200 million in K-12 education cuts statewide come true.

“If we have to do $8—10 million, we’re going to have to start looking in January or February how we’re going to take care of that huge cut and plan ahead. We’re going to have to let a school know well in advance” if it will close, he said.

The backup plan for Scenic Elementary is to move its population to a charter school that would be called Redlands Charter School. Parents at Scenic already filed a letter of intent this September to create the school and have asked the Charter School Institute to hold off on making decisions about the letter until more is known about Scenic’s fate.

Hall said she would prefer the Scenic Elementary population stay in the district and not transfer to a charter school that may be in another building. But she would rather send her kids to the charter school than back to their home school, which would be Wingate Elementary. She said she is optimistic she won’t have to make that choice.

“I guess I’m pretty optimistic the community’s going to do the right thing, so I’m more excited about Tuesday than nervous,” she said.

Jessica Downing-Ford, who has a fourth-grader at Scenic Elementary and hopes to have a kindergartner at the school next year, said she is hopeful but uncertain about how Tuesday’s election will go.

“I guess I’m nervous because it could mean selling three properties and moving my kids,” Downing-Ford said.

The single mother said she doesn’t have time to home-school and isn’t sure she wants to send her children anywhere but Scenic in District 51. If 3B fails, she may start planning a move out of the state.

“I don’t want to go back to the East Coast, but my hand might be forced,” she said.


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