School District 51’s growth problems
A little more than six months ago, voters in School District 51 narrowly rejected a pair of ballot measures to build and operate new schools. This despite predictions that the District 51 student population was growing so rapidly that widespread overcrowding was imminent.
Now, the views of the majority of voters in the district look positively prescient.
The latest estimate by the school district’s paid demographer is that student population will grow by only 1 percent a year for at least the next four years, not the 3 percent a year for the next decade that he had predicted just a year ago.
In a district with a little more than 20,000 students, that means gaining around 200 new students a year, not something above 600 annually.
And even the 1 percent growth rate is far from certain. As an article by The Daily Sentinel’s Dennis Webb highlighted on Saturday, rental trucks have been a hot commodity in Grand Junction recently, as families look to move to other regions because of the downturn in the local energy industry.
It’s still a far cry from 1982, when there was a mass exodus from the Grand Valley and western Garfield County in the wake of the oil shale bust. But it is one indication that a number of families with school-age children might no longer be residing here when classes resume next fall.
None of this is meant to suggest that School District 51 officials or the members of the school board were trying to pull a fast one on voters with last year’s bond issue.
They were relying on the best information then available — demographic and historical data that indicated the energy industry would continue to drive rapid growth in the district’s student population for the next decade or more. Based on that anticipated growth, asking taxpayers to approve funding for new school construction was hardly irresponsible.
But by November, when the vote was held, it was clear the national economy was in serious trouble. And there were already indications that the luster was fading from the natural-gas boom in this region.
Given the state of the economy now, both nationally and regionally, and the outlook for student-population growth, voters may be breathing a sigh of relief they didn’t approve the school bond issues last year.