McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Tough times, good people, hard decisions
Maybe the old saying of “tough times don’t last, tough people do” applies to the folks in Parachute and Battlement Mesa schools. They’re certainly going through some tough times since the Great Recession and downturn in natural gas activity hit about five years ago. And it isn’t the first tough time, either. Just ask the local folks who were around for Black Sunday in May 1982.
Now, the economic realities of the last several years seem to be pushing Garfield County School District 16 toward the pocket books of local residents, businesses and property owners. A mill levy override and bond issue seems to be about the only option left to the district, short of even further budget cuts and layoffs.
But despite these challenges, Grand Valley Middle School and Grand Valley High School have taken some big steps to improve the quality of education they offer a declining student population, and they seem to be working. As you can read in today’s issue of The Citizen Telegram, the middle school is seeing positive results from an expeditionary learning approach and the high school is gaining recognition for its “AP for all” curriculum that calls for every student to take advanced placement classes.
You might wonder that if positive things like these are happening, doesn’t that argue against the need for more funding from taxpayers? That’s a question each voter will have to answer. There are bills to be paid and food to be purchased. Just like a family has to pay for electricity and food on the table.
Usually, but not always, voters tend to favor important needs when it comes to paying higher taxes. When times were better, bond issues and mill levy overrides weren’t as big a concern as they might be now. But I recall at least two more recent school district mill levy or bond issue votes that failed, one in District 16 and one in Garfield School District Re-2. So there’s no guarantee, even for something everyone likely agrees is as important as a child’s education.
Rifle voters two years ago approved a sales tax hike to help pay for a new water treatment plant. But they soundly defeated a sales tax hike last year to help build a recreation center. A crucial need vs. one that most would agree isn’t crucial, even if it would have been a nice addition to our community.
I have a terrible track record when it comes to predicting election outcomes. So if District 16 does decide to seek a mill levy override and bond issue, I have no idea how it would be greeted by voters. I’d think it would be a tough sell, although it was pointed out to me that the vast majority of the district’s property tax revenue comes from the gas industry. I was told at least one homeowner in the district paid just $170 a year in local taxes. So maybe the added burden on local residents wouldn’t be that great. Although there are likely many who think any extra tax is too much, on top of state and federal taxes to boot.
It’s true that one of the first things a family or business looks at when they consider living somewhere is the quality of public schools. Obviously, there are some good things happening in District 16, just as their are in the Re-2 district (Girls on the Run is one cool program). But both districts have struggled recently, they both switched to four-day school weeks, which required adjustments by families that were likely not easy. District 16 has dropped one sports program and may cut others.
Yet they’re both doing some pretty good things. And we’ll be hearing and telling some more positive stories as graduation time nears and the seniors at both Grand Valley and Rifle high schools head out into the world.
Meanwhile, for residents in Parachute and Battlement Mesa, it looks like they’ll have a big decision to make in this fall’s election. It will be interesting to see how things progress and what the outcome might be for schools, students and staff in their community.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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