Eating the seed corn in District 51 versus providing necessary funding

“I don’t know who’s to blame for this recession. But I’m pretty certain it wasn’t our third and fourth graders.” – Sen. Michael Bennet (to Club 20)

There might be more people paying attention to the No. 1 ranking my alma mater, Grand Junction High School, enjoys in the current state football standings than the ranking those student athletes “enjoy” in per pupil spending in Colorado.

In sports terms, if the success of the Tigers, Warriors, Wildcats or Bulldogs were measured in terms of the money spent to support their classroom activities, their rankings would be in Denver Broncos or Colorado Rockies territory.

While the Rockies are heading for still another rebuilding effort during the off season and the Broncos can spend money on free agents and high draft choices, District 51 is forced in the opposite direction. Instead, it’ll be another de-construction effort next year if the proposed mill levy override doesn’t pass … another year of cutting millions of dollars from a budget that’s already been pared significantly for three straight cycles.

Let’s get the numbers, the facts, out of the way.

The district is in the bottom 15 percent of Colorado school districts in per pupil spending, according to 2009-2010 tallies. That’s the last year for which comparable figures for all state schools are available. Put another way, District 51 spent 25 percent less than the state per pupil average to educate local kids that year.

School board members have cut $28 million, about 20 percent, from the district’s budget since 2008 and will need to trim another $8 million or so next year if local voters don’t approve the TABOR Amendment override.

Those extra cuts will follow pink slips for 132 administrative and support positions and 53 teachers just last year.

Back in June, District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz pointed out that cuts to administrative and support positions have represented 73 percent, 68 percent and 44 percent of the personnel cuts in the last three budgets, leaving little choice but to start trimming classroom teachers and aides. Or closing some schools at less-than-full capacity and transferring their students to other nearby schools with available classroom space.

There’s little left in the way of alternatives. We’re eating into the seed corn here.

I’ll leave it to others to argue over the facts. Instead, I’ll offer some observations.

I sat through the recent Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce forum for school board candidates and left with a couple of thoughts. I’d worry about Ann Tisue making the kind of tough decisions the school board faces. When asked at least three times about the mill levy override, she couldn’t give a direct answer despite previously telling The Daily Sentinel she opposed it.

At least we have a choice in that race, where incumbent Cindy Enos Martinez is running again. We don’t in the other, where Jeff Leany thinks we need more Beck, not bucks, in our school system.

I’m still puzzling over Chamber endorsements that recommend Tisue and Leany but also a “Yes” vote on the override. But I will give the local business folks this: They’re putting their money where their mouths are. Given Colorado’s tax rates, which effectively charge owners of business property higher tax rates than you and I pay as homeowners, the override will cost them roughly four times as much for each dollar of property value.

I’ve winced a time or two when supporters for the override accused opponents of being selfish. Truth be told, there are selfish reasons for all of us to vote “Yes.”

The obvious is to pay forward the sacrifices to foot the bill for our learning that our parents made, along with a whole bunch of other folks who no longer had, or never had, kids in the schools. Less apparent is the fact it’s in our self interest to continue that tradition.

I’m personally hoping one of those kids my property taxes are helping to educate might become a better political leader than some we now have or have endured, including yours truly. I’d like to think that somewhere in a District 51 classroom is a future researcher who might find a cure for the disease that claimed the lives of two of my brothers.

And that kids in our classrooms today and tomorrow leave as well prepared for rest of their lives as my two children did.

Three generations of Jim Spehar’s family have attended District 51 schools and a fourth is on the way. Your comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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