Encana affirms funding for Parachute kindergarten

A donation by Encana Oil & Gas (USA) apparently again will cover tuition for the second half of the school year for students enrolled in full-day kindergarten in the Parachute and Battlement Mesa areas.

Garfield County School District 16 says it hasn’t heard yet from Encana that it is repeating the $20,000 donation it made in January, which eliminated tuition for the second half of the last school year. But Encana spokesman Doug Hock said the company committed from the start to contributing $20,000 a year for three years, and that remains its plan.

“That would be great,” said Rose Belden, the district’s director of business services.

But she said Superintendent Ken Haptonstall would be contacting Encana to verify the funding before the district can commit to eliminating tuition in January.

There’s also the possibility the donation won’t be necessary. The district put a mill levy override on the November ballot that, if passed, includes money to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten.

The status of tuition for full-day kindergarten recently has come into question. One parent who contacted The Daily Sentinel and asked to remain anonymous wondered why parents were paying full tuition of $165 a month this fall and said there were rumors the Encana donation was used for other purposes.

Belden said such behavior would be unethical and isn’t the district’s practice.

Hock said he heard from an Encana employee who wondered what happened with the grant money and why full tuition was being charged.

Last year, the district sought to avoid charging tuition by seeking grants from energy companies. But the resulting grant from Encana, along with a $1,000 donation from Noble Energy, covered about half of what was needed, and the timing of the Encana commitment was such that the district charged full tuition the first half of last year.

Belden said the district resumed charging full tuition this year, having not received a commitment from Encana.

Said a somewhat frustrated Hock, “There seems to be a lack of communication there.”

Hock said, “It was very clear that it was a three-year grant.”

Belden said the district began offering full-day kindergarten because it can help give children a head start in school. But, while the state encourages full-day programs, it only is able to provide partial funding.

Belden said families can have their children attend half-day kindergarten for free, if they choose. Also, lower-income families are charged for full-day tuition on a sliding scale.

Even if the tax measure passes, the energy industry will be covering much of the tuition cost for full-day kindergarten. It accounts for more than 90 percent of the school district’s property tax base.


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