Mesa County Valley School District 51 needs a lot more money to provide the kind of safe and modern learning environments most of us would expect of our public schools.
District leaders made a strong case for a bond measure and mill levy override in 2017. Mercifully, voters said yes to both. The $118.5 million bond measure called for a new middle school, repairs and upgrades to nearly 30 schools, two new school gyms, new technology and security upgrades.
But district leaders asked for as little as they thought they could get away with in this historically tax-averse county. In essence, they asked for a very large Band-aid to apply to the most pressing problems with the hope that voters would see progress and financial prudence, thus greasing the skids for a future measure to address long-term needs.
That plan went sideways with former superintendent Ken Haptonstall's disastrous reorganization. Haptonstall's plan, which he billed as right-sizing that would save money, ended up adding positions, raising some salaries and costing nearly $1 million — though most of that cost was mitigated by his successor's corrective action. At any rate, those costs had nothing to do with the bond measure or mill levy override. But the optics were devastating. Any hopes to glide into a new request for a bond measure with voters' goodwill intact died with the reorganization.
So, the school board is gauging the public's appetite for another bond measure. This one, for $175 million, would increase property taxes on a $200,000 home by $4.83 a month, according to the district. That's roughly $58 a year in additional taxes for a modestly valued home and twice that — $116 — for a $400,000 home.
The majority of the $175 million would go toward replacing Grand Junction High School, but funds would also update Palisade, Fruita Monument and Central high schools, creating single-entry points and adding 20 years of life to the buildings.
A bond measure would also add classrooms to Fruita Monument so that Fruita Middle School and Fruita 8/9 School could convert to traditional, three-grade middle schools in the future.
Haptonstall's successor, Diana Sirko, said she hopes people don't hold on to "what may have happened in our system" as a reason to say no to needed repairs and upgrades.
She has quietly and effectively rebalanced the administration to reflect what the district can afford and what works best to support the district's learning model. But will voters notice?
The district is smart to ask voters the likelihood of supporting a bond. No sense in going through the rigamarole of authorizing a question and stumping for it if voters' minds are made up. But we hope they'll consider that needs are still unmet, Haptonstall's folly didn't involve funds from the 2017 measures, which are still tracked and accounted for on the D51 website, and that local funding still lags far behind other districts in the state.
The survey is online at the district's website. Telling district officials what you think about another bond measure is important. They need the feedback to know how they're going to proceed.