Four-day District 51 school week gets support

A four-day school week scored high, cutting sports and busing scored low, and school closures got mixed reviews Thursday night at the first of three District 51-hosted community budget forums this month.

About 60 people attended Thursday’s forum at Bookcliff Middle School. The evening began with a brief presentation about school district finances and a prediction that the district may have to cut $5.1 million to $8.1 million from the district’s 2012-13 budget due to cuts from the state, declining enrollment and other issues.

Parents, educators and concerned citizens who attended the forum were invited to share their ideas for covering that possible shortfall on a note card and leave it for the district’s new community budget group to consider. Discussion during the meeting focused only on four potential budget-saving measures: cuts or changes to busing, a switch to a four-day school week, changing school boundaries and/or closing schools, and cuts or fee increases for athletics and extra curricular activities.

Opinions on those four topics were gathered through public comment and votes. Non-district employees were given a “clicker” that could beam their vote on a list of questions to a computer that tabulated results.

Eighty-eight percent of attendees voted “yes” when asked if they would support a four-day school week. Seventy-five percent said they would prefer to switch to a four-day week rather than retain the current school calendar.

Former Palisade High School teacher Tom Keenan said at the forum he taught in Granby for 20 years. Half of that time, the district had a four-day school week. He said attendance and test scores increased under the four-day system. He said the recreation department and businesses in Granby offered more activities on the school-free weekday and he would expect the same to happen here with a four-day week.

“This community is awesome. This community is behind the schools. I have no doubt it would take a community effort, but this problem is a community problem,” he said of budget constraints.

When it came time to vote on changes to busing or activities, votes skewed in favor of adding or increasing fees rather than cutting programs, eliminating most busing, or making kids walk longer distances to school. Sheron McCampbell, a bus driver since 1987, said some kids won’t go to school if they have no bus to take and she worries little ones with a long walking route may fall prey to people with bad intentions.

“I think it would be a travesty to not transport our children to school,” she said.

Votes split on whether the district should consider closing schools to save $800,000 to $1.2 million, with 48 percent in favor and 52 percent against. Rob Pierce, a parent and member of citizen group Save Our Students, said closing a school may not be the best long-term solution, “If in the future you have to build the school back.”

The next forum is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Grand Junction High School. The final community budget forum will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at Redlands Middle School.


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