School closures blasted at budget forum

About 100 people gathered Thursday evening at Grand Junction High School for the second of three community budget forums hosted by School District 51.

Four-day school weeks and increased student fees for athletics and other groups received support during surveys at Thursday’s forum, mirroring last week’s forum at Bookcliff Middle School. But while the 60 attendees at the first forum were split on school closures as a way to save money, the larger crowd at Grand Junction High School was 88 percent against that idea.

Jill Burkey, mother of two Scenic Elementary students, said closing an administrative building rather than her children’s school, which has been talked about as a possible target for closure because of its small size, could save the district money without impacting students.

“I cannot fathom closing a school while leaving administration uncut this year,” she said, adding she acknowledges administrative cuts have been made in past years. “I think we should consider cutting out-of-school administration.”

Forum facilitator John Hopkins said the forums have focused on transportation, four-day-week calendars, extracurricular activities, school closures and boundary changes because changes or cuts to those areas have been talked about the most in the district and the community. But Burkey and other attendees at Thursday’s forum wanted to know why administrative cuts weren’t being discussed.

Joe Skinner, a member of the district’s newly formed citizen budget development committee, said administrative cuts were the first item the committee discussed. The group will use information gathered at the forums to present budget-trimming ideas to the District 51 Board of Education this spring.

“I’m serious when I say nothing is off the table,” Skinner said.

District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita clarified that Scenic Elementary is not the only school on the table for closure. She listed Dual Immersion’s middle and elementary school programs and New Emerson Elementary School as other possibilities, although not firm ones.

“I’m not saying there’s a secret list,” just that closures in general have been discussed, DeVita said.

More people at the second forum than the first favored eliminating busing for all but special-needs children and cutting busing for middle and high school students, but those ideas still gained support from only about 40 percent of people in attendance Thursday.


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