School funding isn’t a partisan issue — it’s an economic one
Last March I wrote a letter to the Sentinel commenting on the state of District 51 schools and the consequences for our students, our business, and our community.
I will restate part of what I wrote. We moved here about three-and-a-half years ago from Johnson County, Kansas, a Kansas suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. There are multiple towns and school districts within Johnson County. Most districts most have excellent reputations, outstanding facilities and diverse educational paths for the students. Economic growth, jobs, new building starts and housing values there all reflect the desire of the residents to live where there are quality schools and education.
While Kansas City, Missouri (which is adjacent to Johnson County, Kansas) has struggled with their school system and slowing growth, suburbs making the right investments have flourished. What I want to emphasize here is that economic growth, new construction, housing values and jobs were the result in a major way to the excellent schools drawing families and business to the area. On the Missouri side parents have had to place their kids in private schools to assure a quality education.
More than 70 percent of Mesa County residents do not have a student in District 51 schools; however, if you are in that 70 percent (as we are) that doesn’t mean you should not care about the upcoming November funding vote, nor should you vote against it. Your support is critical to ensuring passage of 3A and 3B. Our schools are a major part of the lifeblood of our community and are vital to students’ future success, continued economic growth, housing values and our current and future attractiveness to both businesses and families. The state of D51 schools was recently highlighted in “How Trump Is Transforming Rural America,” an article by Peter Hessler in the July 24 issue of “The New Yorker,” a national magazine, and not in a favorable way:
“ In Grand Junction, the average age of a school building is forty-four years, and the district is ranked a hundred and seventy-first out of a hundred and seventy-eight in the state, in terms of funding per student. Property taxes, which fund the schools, are among the lowest of Colorado cities.”
This is a black eye for our community and it certainly isn’t going to help us attract businesses and families.
Without going into the details of how the funds will be used, which has been documented extensively elsewhere, the major issues facing the school district due to finding shortfalls are basically threefold: infrastructure (buildings), education (teachers, student days, technology, materials) and funding (state and local). For more details on the first two issues and specifically how the funds will be used or to donate please go to https://www.citizensforsd51.com.
Without additional funding at the local level the first two issues above cannot be addressed effectively. The status of funding can be summarized as follows:
■ Colorado school districts as a whole receive significantly less funding than the national average.
■ District 51 is even worse off when it comes to this funding.
■ Colorado as a whole has a significantly lower property tax rate than the national average.
■ To compound the problem, Mesa County has the lowest property tax rate among major Colorado metro areas.
■ D51 has had to deal with combined state and local budget cuts of almost $200 million since 2008.
■ Perhaps not widely known is that D51 is not benefiting from marijuana sales taxes which are part of BEST grants.
The bond issue and mill levy override would be the first approved since 2004. The vote would raise the current average school mill levy from 36.244 to a little over 46. If you inflated the current levy established in 2004 based on the historical Consumer Price Index, the current rate would be over 47 so D51 won’t even be catching up with inflation in this funding measure. These issues and the lack of necessary funding for both operations and capital improvements jeopardize our students’ safety, limit their learning potential and place them at a competitive disadvantage down the road.
So, if you are in the 70 percent who don’t have kids (or grandkids) in D51, here’s why you should support this measure:
■ A better educated and skilled workforce attracts employers and stimulates economic growth and job opportunities.
■ Better education helps students to break the poverty level at a higher rate (a graduating high school student has a 79 percent chance to break the cycle of poverty).
■ We can better arm students with skills and experiences they will need to be successful in future workforces.
■ Parents want their children to do better than them — education and skills are the key to higher paying jobs.
■ We need to improve the safety of our students, both with respect to the buildings and also potential outside threats
■ A good school system directly impacts housing values as demand as proven in the county I moved here from.
In conclusion: First, vote YES for the measures 3A and 3B. Second, support the Citizens for D51 by volunteering and/or donating. Educate yourself! This is not about politics or being a conservative, a liberal or an independent. These are issues which we should unite behind to solve. Take ownership in investing in the future of your community.
Leonard Little and his wife, Phyllis, moved to Grand Junction in May 2014 from Leawood, Kansas. He retired from IBM in 2004 after 28 years in various sales, technical and management positions. After retiring from IBM, he worked for a Silicon Valley technology firm as a senior director of sales. Following that, he taught economics and competitive strategy at the University of St. Mary. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in economics.