De Beque tries another mill levy override to help shrinking school

Teacher David Braskamp works a math problem on the board at De Beque Secondary School on Thursday.

De Beque School District 49-JT Superintendent Steve Strong hopes a mill levy override on November’s ballot will put students back in empty desks.

De Beque’s has decreased by one-third in two years. Strong believes students who left the district because of recent cuts to high school women’s athletics, a lack of new textbooks, or concerns the high school would close because of budget cuts, may find the school more appealing and return if the override passes.

District voters voted down a mill levy override last year that requested a $485,277 property tax increase indefinitely. This time, the override would provide up to $350,000 a year for six years and would pay for curriculum and course expansions, equipment and technology purchases, staff development, deferred maintenance, and capital projects.

The high school will remain open with or without the override, Strong said.

“The override would help us until we get our school enrollment back up,” he said. “If we get interest back up, I believe our enrollment will go back up, and we won’t need this extra help.”

The district gets $13,635 in state and local funding for each student it enrolls. That’s about a thousand dollars more than the district received per student two years ago, but the enrollment drop has lowered overall funding and forced cuts, including the loss of the school’s only principal in 2010, a salary freeze the same year, and delays in purchases for the district and classrooms.

The additional money would fund some simple things, such as the test tubes, cloudy with years’ worth of unknown chemicals, that De Beque High School science teacher Frank Barnes hasn’t been able to replace during difficult budget years.

“Some of these are safety hazards,” he said, holding up a set of blackened test tubes Thursday in his classroom.

Barnes said the override would provide money to update his science lab and help the school district get through low-enrollment years.

“I think if we weather the storm, things will turn around” with enrollment, Barnes said.

De Beque fourth-grade teacher Rose Varner said she would like to see the district reinstate the principal position. She said some parents took their children out of the school district because of overturn in administration in recent years.

“With that revolving door, a lot of the small-school feel went out,” Varner said, adding, “I feel that small-school feel is back with Mr. Strong. He knows the town.”

Strong became superintendent this year after the departure of Marty Lucas, who was superintendent from 2009 to 2011. Strong served as De Beque’s superintendent from 1994 to 2004 and moved back to town in July.

Strong oversees more than 30 employees, including a part-time music teacher and a part-time art teacher. Strong said he is concerned about maintaining those positions if more cuts have to be made, and there is little room to eliminate classroom teaching positions. All elementary grades have one teacher apiece, and the middle and high schools have one teacher per subject.

“It’s hard to find those dual- or triple-qualified people anymore who are considered highly qualified in those subject areas,” Strong said.


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