District 51 to discuss “creative” funding solutions

School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz pledged Thursday to approach Fruita City Council members and possibly local businesses about potential funding solutions to ease crowding in Fruita elementary schools.

Schultz made the pledge during a district-hosted community meeting at the Fruita Community Center. About 50 people attended the two-hour meeting, including members of Fairness for Fruita Students, a group of parents and teachers formed this spring to encourage District 51 School Board members to allocate more funding to Fruita grade schools and bring more teachers and aides into Shelledy and Rim Rock elementary in order to decrease class sizes.

Mother and Fairness for Fruita Students member Emily Lintott said her kindergartner and second-grader each have 28 students in their classes at Rim Rock. She said it’s unlikely the school district could get funding for Fruita schools by attempting another mill levy override like the one that failed last year. Overrides must be approved by voters living within the entire school district boundary, which stretches across much of Mesa County.

Schultz told Thursday night’s crowd the district hasn’t had money of its own to hire more teachers and aides for crowded schools during four years of budget cuts. Only three teachers were redistributed across the district this year due to limitations in other schools, such as certain grades at less-populous schools like Appleton and Broadway having just a handful too many students to make lumping all students in a grade into one class plausible.

Schultz said it will take “creative” solutions to address the concerns of some Fruita parents who are worried they are getting “picked on,” as one parent put it, compared to other families in the Grand Valley. Shelledy and Rim Rock do not have the highest average class sizes in the district but they are near the top with 25.2 students in the average Rim Rock classroom and 23.2 students in the average Shelledy classroom, according to data delivered at the meeting by District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita. Schultz said he’s not sure if talking to City Council members or others will result in a solution that will pay to decrease those numbers, but he’s willing to give it a shot based on feedback at the community meeting.

“It’s going to have to be out-of-the-box thinking” to find a solution, Schultz said, adding, “Several years there wasn’t money to build DIA (Dual Immersion Academy) but they got it done” through a leasing agreement and parent effort.

School Board President Greg Mikolai took the mic Thursday to share that he has hated making budget cuts and wants everyone to work on solutions,.

“It isn’t just the board. It isn’t just administration. It isn’t just teachers. It isn’t just parents. All of us have to take control of this,” he said.

Although she has her doubts, Fairness for Fruita member Chandra Boulden said after the meeting she believes alternative solutions may yield some results the group is striving for.

“If they follow-through on everything they’re hypothetically suggesting, then there’s hope,” she said.


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