A test for residents of School District 51

Recent letter writers to The Daily Sentinel have included a number of individuals who have declared they would not consider voting for an increase in funding for School District 51 until the district demonstrates substantial improvement in its test scores.

It’s understandable to want achievement to accompany additional tax dollars. That’s why its welcome news that the results of the 2011 Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores, published in the Sentinel Thursday, show continuing progress in that direction for most of the schools in the district — albeit far more slowly than we would like.

However, in some places where progress has been particularly encouraging — such as Clifton Elementary School — future improvement could be jeopardized by the prospect of still more steep cuts in District 51’s budget.

We’re not here to endorse a possible TABOR Amendment override ballot measure this November, especially since the District 51 School Board has yet to decide whether it will put such a measure on the ballot.

But we do want to make clear to residents of the Grand Valley and Gateway area that they will likely face their own critical test regarding schools before long, whether that occurs in November or at some later date.

The test will involve what we want our public school system — and hence our economic future — to look like.

As we have noted before, good schools and a vibrant economy are inextricably linked. Whether it’s a new company considering a move to this area, energy companies already working in the region’s gas fields, or other businesses, they all want a well-educated workforce to meet their labor needs and good schools to which their employees can send their children.

Although there is certainly room for improvement, District 51 has generally provided that solid education system. But, like nearly every school district in Colorado, it has had to cut significantly to deal with drastically reduced state funding. It eliminated $11 million in this year’s budget alone. Those cuts have come in all areas of the district’s operations — including substantial cuts in administration.

But the latest economic forecasts suggest millions more may have to be cut a year from now. If that is the case, it will threaten the ability of District 51 to maintain new programs such as those at Clifton Elementary School that have helped produce impressive improvements in CSAP scores in reading and math. This, at what has historically been one of the lowest-performing schools in the district.

The test for residents of District 51 will be whether they are willing to find ways for the school system to maintain even its current funding levels, much less increase revenue. Or will we allow the district to give up the gains it has gradually been making to devolve into a system less effective for current students and less attractive to prospective businesses or residents.


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