Author of previous school bonds says this year’s is flawed

School District 51’s $185 million bond issue on the Nov. 4 ballot is flawed because of its funding for two new high schools, said a retired district employee who fashioned many of the district’s previous bond issues.

The bond issue envisions two new high schools that Gary Carr said might not be needed, at least not immediately.

The district is asking voters to approve building two new elementary schools, replace Orchard Mesa Middle School and construct two new high schools, one in the Appleton area and the other on Orchard Mesa.

The board in August rejected a larger bond issue, $211 million, that would have included a new school in Pear Park.

The main issue for Carr, though, is the new high schools.

The district sold its last bond issue in 2004 on the basis of maintaining the Grand Valley’s four high schools — Central, Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade — much as they are, with enrollments approaching 1,800 students, Carr said.

The Oct. 8 enrollment counts showed high school enrollment holding relatively steady, he said, with Grand Junction up 41 students, Fruita Monument down 14, Central down 30 and Palisade up 36.

Over the last quarter century, district enrollment has clung largely to the pattern of Grand Valley growth overall,  a growth rate of about 2 percent per year.

“I would rather that they came in with a more realistic plan to solve the problems they really have,” he said.

The district can build high schools quickly, he said, but needs to lessen the pressure at the elementary and middle schools.

High schools, however, already are under pressure, said Melissa Callahan DeVita, executive director of support services for the district.

A slowdown in the rate of new-home construction has him questioning how long the district’s growth rate can continue, Carr said.

The district’s projections, however, are more geared to other economic factors, especially job growth, Callahan DeVita said.

“A lot of this has to do with jobs,” she said, “and the fact that we were announced as having the fifth-healthiest economy in the nation.”

The Grand Junction area’s unemployment rate of just over 3 percent also has much to do with the expectation of continued growth. The district’s demographer is projecting 2 percent annual growth at Central, 3 percent at Fruita Monument, 4 percent at Grand Junction and 3 percent in Palisade, she said.

Student enrollment for grades 9 to 12 districtwide has jumped from 6,099 in 2003-04 to 6,500 in the academic year that ended in May, she said.

New enrollments at individual campuses, meanwhile, are continuing even after the October head count, which sets the base for state funding, she said.

“The principal at Fruita Monument High School told me she had 10 new students enroll this week,” Callahan DeVita said.

Other principals are seeing similar blips in enrollment, she said.

Where enrollment once settled in after school began, it’s now common to have new arrivals well into the school year, she said.

Students are now “coming in at all grade levels,” as their parents move to find work, she said. “Now, if there’s a chance for them to find employment opportunities, they come.”

If the bond issue passes, the tax on residential property with assessed value of $250,000 will increase by $133.20 annually for 25 years to pay the bond debt. An additional $6 million annually from a permanent mill levy override to partially cover increased operating costs for the new buildings equates to $73.92 annually in residential property taxes, according to District 51.

Tax on commercial property with assessed value of $300,000 will increase by $582.12 annually for 25 years to pay the bond debt, the district said.


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