District 51 pitches school ballot measure in Fruita

Members of the School District 51 Board of Education and Fruita City Council on Monday discussed the school district’s pursuit of a mill levy override and bond measure to replace a middle school, repair existing schools, increase technology and add new curriculum.

School board members, District 51 staff and Superintendent Steve Schultz met with Fruita city councilors and Fruita City Manager Mike Bennett to share a tentative proposal for a bond measure and mill levy override and ask about the Fruita community’s interest in potential ballot measures.

Part of the discussion was acknowledging that the potential measures did not necessarily meet every community’s highest needs. School board President John Williams and Vice President Tom Parrish said the district’s repair needs, which top $500 million, and aging schools can’t be fixed in one election.

“There’s no way to get there in one step,” Williams said. “What we need is a win, but not at such a great cost that it scares people away. Once we get a win, we think we’ll get another win in a year or two. We think this is some momentum that the community needs.”

Parrish said the district was approaching a “threshold” of capital needs that could become overwhelming if not addressed.

“We know this isn’t the package a lot of people wish it was, but we think we can sell this and we think we can be successful,” Parrish said.

Bennett said what he hears most often from Fruita parents are concerns about school security and large class sizes at elementary schools.

City councilors also recently approved the development of 112 new homes and will hear a proposal for 275 more in June — which means more families and more students in Fruita schools.

Board members have not publicly discussed adding a new school in Fruita to the potential ballot measure, though Parrish and Williams said Monday that the board was aware of the need for an additional school in the Fruita attendance area.

Schultz said while some of the more expensive projects on the list — like replacing Orchard Mesa Middle School — won’t have as much of an impact on Fruita residents, things like increased technology, more curriculum funding, more school days and many of the smaller construction projects will benefit Fruita students and families.

Councilor Bruce Bonar said residents would respond to knowing what needed to be fixed or improved at a school and why it needs to be done.

“Let’s attach real numbers to real projects and schools, so people will be able to point to things,” he said. “You need to show the people where the money is going to go. You’ve got an uphill battle of selling the credibility, because there’s a lot of people who don’t listen to the details and believe it just goes to the overhead, to administration.”

The District 51 school board has not yet passed a resolution to put a measure on the November ballot.


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