Vote ‘Yes’ on Questions 3A, 3B

With an economic slowdown occurring and voters facing the most crowded ballot in Mesa County’s history — including several other ballot measures seeking more money from taxpayers — this is a difficult time for School District 51 to ask its constituents to approve a $185 million bond issue to construct more schools.

But it’s also hard to dispute the need for new schools. Anyone who has visited Fruita Monument High School between classes knows what a jumble of packed bodies that scene is, and why more high schools are needed in the valley.

There’s more evidence: Some kindergarten students who should attend Pear Park Elementary School, which was completed just two years ago, are now being bused to Chatfield Elementary because Pear Park is already overcrowded for kindergarten.

Furthermore, the district has nearly 600 new students this year, and that figure could go higher when a final count is completed this fall, according to School Board member Ron Rowley. That’s an increase in student population approaching 3 percent. The district has planned for growth of 2 percent a year.

If the ballot measures don’t pass, the district will have to turn to alternative measures — including year-round school, split sessions and more modular buildings — to accommodate the growth.

But if voters in the district approve Question 3B, here’s what the district will be able to do:

•  Build two new high schools, one on Orchard Mesa and one in the Appleton area;

•  Build two new elementary schools, one in Fruita and one likely in the east end of the valley;

•  Replace Orchard Mesa Middle School with a new building.

•  Perform maintenance and repairs to existing buildings of about $33 million;

•  Have $7 million for land acquisition.

When the school board voted last month to go with the least costly of two options, it dropped another middle school from the plan, Rowley said.

If voters approve Question 3A, they will be authorizing an additional $6 million a year for the district to operate the new schools. 3B would only take effect if 3A is also approved.

This will have a definite impact on voter’s pocketbooks. According to school district’s own figures, the combined impact of passing both 3A and 3B will mean additional taxes of approximately $207 a year on a home valued at $250,000.

This newspaper, like many people in this community, has been extremely critical of District 51’s performance on statewide tests of late. It clearly has failed to progress in many subjects at a variety of grade levels.

But it is not as if the district were ignoring the problem. At the same meeting earlier this month in which the school board finalized language for the bond issue, Assistant Superintendent Steve Schultz outlined a plan to have teachers work with low-performing students after school in an effort to boost test scores and overall performance.

Moreover, there’s nothing to indicate more crowded schools will improve student performance.

Additionally, it should be noted that the school district has not frittered away taxpayers’ money that was approved for new schools in previous bond issues.

The new Chipeta Elementary School, for example, was constructed with funds saved when buildings came in under budget in the 2004 bond issue.

Finally, this remains a growing community, despite the overall slowing of the economy. Even though construction of new homes has slowed, people are continuing to move to this community and are bringing children with them. By all indications, it will continue to grow at a healthy pace for at least the next 20 years.

Constructing new facilities — whether they be parkways, police stations or schools — is a necessary undertaking to handle that growth. Waiting until the schools are facing a true crisis with buildings will only make the problem worse and costs higher.

We urge voters in School District 51 to vote “Yes” on both Question 3A and Question 3B.


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