Editorial: Accepting reality means supporting RFSD bonds
The Roaring Fork School District’s $122 million bond proposal, which is before voters through Nov. 3, reflects some difficult realities in our valley.
Some of our school buildings are overcrowded, worn out and suffer from the effects of deferred maintenance made worse by the recession. Our population is growing and our geography and politics limit where we can build essential infrastructure as basic as homes and schools.
While we wish that the communities and counties that send students to RFSD schools and the district worked to coordinate growth and development, they don’t.
While we wish that Colorado schools were financed in a way that allowed better teacher pay, they aren’t.
While some patrons of the school district would like to believe that new teachers should be able to get by on $36,000 a year, they can’t.
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While some of us wish our taxes wouldn’t go up, we have a societal obligation — and a strong self-interest — in ensuring a good education and safe, modern learning environment for our future leaders, workers and taxpayers. The world has changed greatly since the days of simple schoolhouses, and it is essential to our economic future that we prepare our children to thrive in an information-inundated, technology-driven future.
Because of these realities and obligations and because the bond proposal contains far more good than bad, the Post Independent offers its qualified endorsement of the plan.
Our primary reservation is focused on the Eastbank School, planned for a site south of Glenwood Springs that we fear will contribute to sprawl and worsen traffic.
We don’t like this school site — which has the potential to accommodate a second school in the future — but as we examined it more deeply, we realized that the real source of our distaste is the circumstance that led RFSD to conclude it is necessary.
Garfield County opened this door by approving residential development between Glenwood and Carbondale and up in Spring Valley. RFSD argues that its school would not be a catalyst for sprawl, but a response to sprawl in an area where 300 children already live.
To help avoid making things worse if the school is built, we call on RFSD, Garfield County, RFTA and the Colorado Department of Transportation to firm up a plan to realign County Road 154 to smooth traffic flow and enhance safety, including for the Rio Grande Trail.
Garfield County, with ample reserves, can provide the roughly $4 million needed — and should take responsibility for the consequences of its earlier decisions.
We suspect that if this had to do with natural gas development near Parachute, the heavy equipment would already be moving. Commissioners: The long-term economic future of our region depends at least as much on educating our children well in safe settings as it does on natural gas.
Let’s look now at the best parts of the plan:
• A proposed renovation of Glenwood Springs Elementary School is needed badly, both for the school and for the community. The renovation of a school in the heart of town is good for children, the neighborhood and the whole community. That’s enhanced by a pending land swap with Glenwood Springs that helps pave the way for development of the confluence area, which holds great potential.
The Glenwood Springs Elementary project also has won a $9 million state grant that would be relinquished if the bond proposal is defeated. That’s our cut of the much-ballyhooed marijuana tax money, and we should not let it go.
• A plan for $15 million spent on RFSD staff housing also is badly needed and is a wise proposal by the district. While some have concerns about RFSD jumping into the housing market, the cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley overlaid with modern student debt causes us to lose promising young talent that would help build strong, sustainable communities. Absent a regional housing plan, the district as an employer must act to help recruiting and retention.
• School security upgrades are needed — few RFSD schools provide real restrictions on entry to buildings.
• Some of the miscellaneous things, fixing leaks, energy efficiency upgrades, relocating bus facilities, make lots of sense.
This is a good time to borrow; interest rates are low.
If the bond is defeated:
• We will lose the state grant for Glenwood Elementary, which would increase the cost of that project by $10 million.
• The housing crunch will only worsen.
• Interest rates likely will be higher.
• Without Eastbank, crowding at Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Middle School continues, and because of geographic constraints, there’s no other readily available school site.
We don’t take lightly a tax increase of more than $200 a year for many homeowners — and much more for commercial property owners. Investments in education pay off for all of us. Good schools fight poverty more effectively than anything else, incubate good citizens and help communities attract businesses and residents.
Buildings are part of that. Leaks (Glenwood Springs Elementary has one classroom with a hose draining water from the roof into a plastic bin), crowded rooms, extra time moving to temporary buildings and maintenance problems detract from effective work and learning.
Among opponents, we have heard no one come forward with an alternative solution to these real problems.
“No” is not a solution; it is ostrich-like denial that will make our challenges more complicated and expensive to address.
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