Pros and cons of D51 school tax aired at meeting
Advocates of two proposed School District 51 funding measures were greeted with a mixture of opposition and support at a forum hosted by the Republican Party of Mesa County on Friday.
Kelly Flenniken, chairwoman of the political issue committee Citizens for School District 51, and Phyllis Hunsinger, a former educator, painted two dramatically different pictures of the district’s needs.
A proposed $118.5 million bond measure would pay for school repairs, a new Orchard Mesa Middle School, classroom technology and two new school gyms.
A $6.5 million mill levy override, which includes a 10-year sunset, would pay for five additional school days, curriculum, ongoing school repairs and technology support.
Flenniken told the nearly 60 attendants about the building, safety, program and technology needs at the district’s 43 schools.
Students in District 51 attend school for less days every year than other districts across the state and country, Flenniken said.
“My daughter just started kindergarten, and by the time she graduates she will go to school a year less than (other districts),” Flenniken said.
Hunsinger said that some decisions by district administrators, including the hiring of an administrator who lived in another town during his employment, showed that District 51 does not use money responsibly.
“I am passionate about education but I am voting against the funding increase for District 51 because the leaders in this district have demonstrated they are not good stewards of taxpayer funds,” Hunsinger said.
Hunsinger also criticized the economic impact study published by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership on Tuesday, which said that a successful bond measure and mill levy override would infuse nearly $160 million into the local economy and support more than 485 jobs.
“Who knew we could simply tax ourselves into prosperity?” Hunsinger said, to laughter among many in attendance. “This flawed thinking is similar to thinking we can cut off the dog’s tail to feed him fresh meat.”
Attendees had a chance to ask questions at the end of the forum, though some used the time to air grievances against the school district or express their support rather than ask a question.
Grand Junction City Councilwoman Phyllis Norris, wearing a Citizens for School District 51 campaign button, said that the district’s current funding levels were not enough to maintain buildings or support learning.
“I cannot allow my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren who are now starting school to go to those schools,” Norris said. “This is one way … we can say that we care.”
After the forum, Hunsinger said that she would only support a funding measure that was “directly related to teachers teaching in the classroom, teachers being held accountable for learning, students being held accountable for learning and a building principal that is an instructional leader that is absolutely held accountable for the learning in that building.”
The proposed mill levy override includes funding for teacher professional development and new curriculum for students and teachers.
Hunsinger said she would “have to think about” supporting the mill levy override.
“That might make a difference,” she said. “I’ve lumped it all together.”
Grand Junction resident Carolyn Brown said she attended the forum because she’s interested in learning more about education.
“Years ago I was a teacher, and I wanted to hear both sides, and I am very definitely more on the side of what Phyllis (Hunsinger) spoke for,” Brown said. “I know that money needs to be in the classroom first because if you don’t have that our children aren’t learning and that’s the problem. I would rather see more education for the teachers and see them help the children than infrastructure right now, but it’s not that we don’t need both.”