Board approves committee to explore mill levy override
With repeated failures at the state level to find a bigger and more consistent stream of funding for education, the Gunnison Watershed School District board of education appears ready to put two questions to the valley’s residents: What do you want from your schools? And are you willing to pay for it?
The failure of Amendment 66 last November was a final straw for the school board and district administration, which had warned of an impending tax question to voters if the measure was defeated. And it was, soundly.
“This is my personal opinion, but I don’t think local school districts can any longer rely on the state for the financial support the public schools need,” board member Bill Powell told the board at a meeting Monday, January 13. “I think the challenge now is at the local school district level. What can you do to form and get support from your own local community for what they want their local schools to look like?”
In four of the last five years, the state has informed the district of perennial cuts to its per-pupil funding formula and “negative factors” that seemed to strip money from students arbitrarily to help save a suffering state budget. Those cuts have cost the district around $2.1 million annually.
And the district is already benefitting from a $1.3 million mill levy override that voters passed in November 2004, as well as a suite of brand new schools from a $55 million renovation.
But before the district goes to the voters to ask for more money to fill the funding gap left by the state’s rescissions, superintendent Doug Tredway is preparing to start a conversation with the community about what people want from their public schools.
The idea of a valley-wide discussion about public education came about after a book and presentation by author and CEO-turned-public education advocate Jamie Vollmer motivated the district’s board and administration to seek feedback from the valley’s residents.
According to Vollmer, it isn’t only about getting financial support from a community. It’s about getting general support for changing the educational paradigms to suit the needs of that community.
Tredway is eager to expand the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program that started in Crested Butte Community School through the district and points to the need for better vocational training for students who want to pursue a craft or a trade.
The school has also experimented with alternative education programs that focus on standards-based education, as opposed to the current system that rewards students simply for putting in the time, regardless of their mastery of a subject.
“Our school system has and needs to continue to challenge the status quo by thinking differently. How do we ensure that each student is successful?” Powell said. “I think this challenge of the status quo is to think differently and continue thinking differently if we’re the kind of board members that believe we need to challenge the status quo to ensure the success of all students.”
To clarify that point, Tredway, in the presentation about the schools he hopes to take to the community, points to the changes that have taken place over the 130 years of schooling in the Gunnison Valley.
He explains how the state is at the bottom of the nation in terms of spending per public school student and how the recent state-level cuts have cost the school crucial staff positions and led to larger class sizes. The school has also been tasked with everything from sex education to anti-bullying initiatives, to add to the regular curriculum. And standardized tests. And teacher assessments.
All the while the school year is getting shorter. It was 185 days when Tredway graduated from high school in Gunnison. It was 180 days when he started teaching in Gunnison and it’s 171 days today. Only Bolivia requires students go to school fewer days in a year, Tredway says. Budgets continue to get tighter, with no end in sight.
So as Tredway takes his presentation into the community, he’s asking what the people want and explaining what the schools have to do, trying to align the two.
He’s also gained board approval to convene a committee to explore the possibility of putting a mill levy override question on the ballot in November 2014.