Politics aside, be good citizens and support local kids
Who knew a New Yorker article could make such a buzz in Grand Junction? The July 24 article by Dan Hessler — “How Trump is Transforming Rural America” — held a mirror up to Grand Junction politics and sociology. Local reaction varied: some rejoiced in the local manifestation of the “Trump Effect;” some were saddened by the picture The New Yorker painted of our valley.
Mr. Hessler’s article thankfully highlighted one thing in particular: the disastrous state of education funding in Mesa County: “In Grand Junction, the average age of a school building is (44) years, and the district is ranked (171st) out of (178) in the state, in terms of funding per student.” Mr. Hessler also identified underfunded schools as an economic factor restricting growth and diversification: “One bright spot in the economy has been the growth of Colorado Mesa University ... but it’s hard to become a true college town when public schools are so badly underfunded.”
Regardless of your reaction to The New Yorker piece, we can agree that connection with our neighbors and an obligation to help our own communities is central to American citizenship. And we can agree that we should take commonsense steps to help our community succeed. Right? Well, this is your chance to do just that: vote in November to help our grievously underfunded schools.
In November, two measures to increase District 51’s funding for infrastructure overhaul will be on the ballot. A similar proposal came to a vote in 2011 and was rejected. Per Professor Megan Fromm’s op-ed from Sunday’s Sentinel: “The last time residents allocated money to our crumbling schools was in 2004, meaning this year’s high school graduates went through their entire K-12 career without additional county-approved funds to improve the classrooms they sat in every day.”
Citizens and businesses have banded together to form the policy group Citizens for District 51 to increase awareness of District 51’s needs, and create momentum to bail out our ailing school facilities. Via social media, the group has catalogued some startling problems at District 51’s schools:
■ Chunks of missing ceiling, constant mildew odor, and deteriorating plumbing at Clifton Elementary.
■ Asbestos flooring at Orchard Avenue Elementary.
■ The widespread use of textbooks from the 1990s.
■ Several schools, including Grand Junction High, need major roof overhauls or even replacement.
■ Too many HVAC repairs to mention.
■ A plant — a literal plant — growing out of the wall at Orchard Mesa Middle School.
These are only a few of the insane number of repairs needed at schools district-wide, as documented by the “Plan” section of Citizens for District 51’s website. But, the skinny: of 39 school buildings, 18 need significant repairs or renovations. Three buildings need to be replaced entirely. If approved, the measures would raise taxes by approximately $10 per month — repeat: $10 per month — per household.
Now, I have seen the arguments against voting for the tax increase to fund these essential repairs. They are predictable, but off-base:
■ “Staff and management are paid too much:” First, locals haven’t seemed to take issue with high salaries for supervisors of other Mesa County institutions. Also, if you really want to run the schools “like a business,” you’ve got to pay your talented teachers and administrators.
■ “Kids don’t need/deserve the repairs:” Read the plan of repairs at Citizens for District 51’s website, and then see if you still believe this. If you do, then why don’t children “deserve” a nice school?
■ “My school was bad, and I turned out just fine:” First, don’t you wish your community had insisted that you had a nicer place to go to school when you were young? Second, I guess it’s fine if you believe that children ought to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” but let’s at least get them bootstraps that weren’t made in the 1990s with asbestos.
■ “It’s not worth the investment:” When business owners, or their potential employees, look to relocate, they look at the quality of the schools. What will these people do when they see a community unwilling to support their woefully underfunded schools?
You want a good reason for better-funded schools? Take your pick: It’s only $10 a month. It will encourage more people to come here, and more CMU graduates to stay. It’s in everyone’s interest to have an educated population. It creates tighter communities. Good teachers will stay here.
But perhaps most of all: the alternative — purposefully underfunded schools — is embarrassing. Get educated on the problems, and the minimal cost to you, then do the right thing in November.