Let’s start with the school calendar. It impacts hundreds of people in the community so is worth chatting about. It has been under the radar the last few years but recently, a parent loudly brought it up at a school board meeting. We reported on it. The original story had a headline that read: “Parents angry after extended school breaks.” The school’s staff was upset at that headline since just one parent spoke at the school board meeting referenced in the story. As I explained to the staff that confronted me over the headline—in the context of that story they were correct. The word parents should not have been plural. But in the context of the community, I explained, I had heard concerns about the calendar from several parents. So I will apologize for the headline in that particular context but not the headline in the overall issue context. So let’s talk about the issue.
The calendar kerfuffle has exploded because as the person who originally spoke out about the calendar at the school board meeting admitted to the accountability committee last week, her delivery “stinks.” That is an understatement and has poisoned what could be a simple and civil discussion over an issue that impacts a lot of people. Instead of reasonable debate, we have finger pointing and unnecessary hostility. That is too bad.
If you rise above the dark delivery and look at legitimate issues that have risen through the sludge and seem to be negatively impacting at least some families in the community, there is opportunity to mitigate some of the problems that come with the frequent break calendar. At the accountability meeting, more than one parent mentioned that for families with younger children, some of the school breaks are honestly difficult to cope with. Some young children are apparently left unattended at home during the breaks while parents work. Others are put in front of a TV at local shops while parents deal with weeklong breaks in October, November and February.
Schools are not babysitters and the break appears to work especially well for older students. From what I’m hearing now that it is a vocal topic, it appears the majority of families are cool with the calendar and just figure it out. One idea rekindled by a few parents is again offering community workshops during those school breaks. Those who cannot go to Mexico for a beach holiday can probably afford a small stipend to send their children to a history club, computer seminar or cooking class at least a few hours a day during the breaks. Perhaps the PTA can help organize them again and hold the workshops at the school. Maybe WSCU students can hold classes and gain some real life experience. That is a reasonable communal solution to a problem that some families are facing.
Since the Town Council has chosen not to do so, I will put out a defense of the Crested Butte town staff pay scale. While it would certainly be hard for the staff to argue they are underpaid in this valley, I see nothing out of proportion for what the people in town hall make. The town works and it is the people working there who make it work. Crested Butte has a budget surplus while a lot of other similar communities, including many perceived as being more pro-business, are struggling to provide much beyond basic service. That Crested Butte surplus is there in large part because of the conservative finance director and all the department heads consciously deferring improvements and keeping their department budgets tight. They are putting it out there for the general benefit of the overall community.
To suggest, as a former mayor did, that the town clerk or any department head should be paid $25,000 is silly. The town needs professionals in the positions and they have them. Believe me, I don’t always agree with some of the substance and style of the staff members at times, but these people keep the wheels turning pretty smoothly in a town that depends on tourism. Sales tax in Crested Butte is increasing, summer is growing (in part because of the attraction of the town), projects are lean but moving ahead and the people who help run the municipality are able to live in or near the town. Isn’t that what we want from middle class workers? The former mayor’s insinuation seems to me to be based in some annoyance toward some staff members he feels aren’t doing things the way he would. That’s an issue other than pay.
I wish I made as much as the lowest paid department head but I don’t want those tradeoffs. Look, nothing is perfect, and attitude from town hall can occasionally be, shall we say, indelicate, but in my opinion, the town for the most part has a quality, fairly compensated staff running a pretty good place.
Holiday lighting and ho ho ho spirit—Gunnison is doing it right. The north end of the valley doesn’t seem to be doing it much at all. I heard nothing but kudos for Gunnison’s festive, joyous Night of Lights. People can’t wait to take the drive down south next year with the kids to have a good time in Gunnison. The deficit of festive spirit up here is lame. The tree lighting at the entrance to Crested Butte looks like an old man in a hospital gown with a flimsy front and open back. It’s sort of embarrassing in a funny sort of way.
These December days are short and there is a reason the religious holidays held this time of year focus on light and candles and celebration of the Solstice sun. I’d suggest you can’t have too many lights during these short days in either Crested Butte or Mt. Crested Butte.
I think the downtown council is a bit too obsessed with the fear of over-lighting any time of the year (I may be the only one who likes string lighting at outdoor eateries) but right now, more lights is not just a great addition to a tourist community during the holidays, it can help with overall sanity as the days grow shorter. Please find a few bucks in that big reserve fund and create more holiday cheer. Light it up, fellas. People want to visit a cheery tourist community, not a dark hole. And fix the hospital gown tree, please.
Heck, if we had a little more light in the neighborhood, the salary and calendar discussions might be a bit less chippy and a tad more uplifting.