It’s time to up the ante for 
District 51 public schools

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

— Benjamin Franklin

My uncle, now long-retired, was the first of our family to graduate from local public schools in 1948. Since then, nearly two dozen members of my extended family have followed. More are on the way in the fourth generation to pass through the hallways of Fruita, Grand Junction or Central high schools and their feeder schools.

My late mother was a school nurse at both Central and GJHS before being recruited to run the student health program at what was then Mesa College. My wife (GJHS Class of 1965) took what she learned in local public schools and returned to teach both students and teachers in District 51 before failing retirement and continuing to mentor special education programs on the Western Slope. Her sister became president of the district’s Board of Education and remains active in the D51 Foundation.

Family gatherings bring together farriers and financiers, physician’s assistants and recovering politicians as well as successful practitioners of many other professions. All of that began with a good education in our local public schools.

Suffice it to say this family has some skin in the game when it comes to the fate of District 51’s bond issue and mill levy override on the ballot this fall. We’re beneficiaries grateful to thousands of district taxpayers, most of whom we’ve never met, who invested in us over eight decades of family learning.

The question before us is should we continue that tradition, should we up the ante and invest just a little bit more.

To do that, we must ignore the naysayers. We must decide if the reality of accumulated needs caused by $40 mllion in cuts from D51 budgets in recent years overcomes the political and philosophical objections of the “no more taxes” crowd. Despite their latest mutterings, the positive economic bump we’ll also experience when, if voters approve, renewal and new construction begins, jobs are created, materials and supplies are purchased locally is undeniable.

There’s hope. This is very different than the recent defeat of the events center issue in April’s city election. That plan was not only more expensive, it suffered because it offered few direct benefits to local taxpayers. As we’ve read in the past few days, the private sector, in the form of those who’ll profit from expansion of event hosting capabilities, is stepping up to partner in a more realistic project.

There’s no private sector to pick up the tab for $110 million in backlogged capital needs that accumulated when the economic downturn forced clashing spending on buildings, equipment and administration. Those targets kept cuts as far away from classroom instruction as possible. While there may be some welcome assistance from business and industry, it’s our collective responsibility to provide the learning tools necessary for students to contend for jobs and higher education opportunities in the 21st Century.

Our graduates should not have to have one hand tied behind their back, in the form of a full year’s worth of fewer classroom days than the average, when they compete for college placements, scholarships or jobs.

No kid, here or elsewhere, should be learning from a history book that still lists Bill Clinton as president. No kid, here or anywhere else, should be stepping over failing sidewalks, suffering the smells of backed up sewers or, in this day of security concerns, going to school on a campus with nearly 30 outside entrances and dated alarms.

When my uncle graduated from GJHS in 1948, the gymnasium at what’s now Fruita Middle School was already nine years old. When those of us who’ve graduated from GJHS since the 1960s return to the halls and classrooms my late father-in-law helped build, they look very familiar. The average age of District 51 schools is 44 years. Some are so old it’s impossible to get parts for their mechanical systems.

We’re just about a month away from receiving mail-in ballots for the upcoming election. With their votes, Mesa County voters will decide whether public education in District 51 is a priority or an afterthought.

Let’s vote wisely and provide long overdue catch-up funding for current and future students in District 51 public schools.


Jim Spehar graduated at the top of the second half of his GJHS Class of 1964. He’ll write about the public safety ballot issue next week. Comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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