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Teacher housing in Crested Butte dominates RE1J budget discussion

Tredway contends, board agrees: Investment in housing is an investment in the future

By Toni Todd

The RE1J’s financial outlook for the coming budget year is strong, according to the district’s superintendent and business manager. This past Monday night, the RE1J school board passed its second reading of the 2017-2018 budget, with just a few clarifying questions from the board and no comment from the public. Where the discussion lingered was housing. The budget reserves general fund money for two rental-housing units in Crested Butte.

“We’ve had a year of conversations about potential housing in Crested Butte,” superintendent Doug Tredway said. He’s also talked with superintendents in Telluride, Aspen and Park City to learn what’s going on in other communities.

Tredway asked, “Is it still a community school, when no one who works there can live there? People who teach at the community school ought to be able to live in Crested Butte. We’ve had a couple of teachers this summer, their rents got too high, so they moved to Gunnison and will be commuting next year.”

The district will pay for the units with a recent Secure Girl Schools grant from the state. That money will become part of the $19 million general fund. “There’s not some tracer on where that goes,” Tredway said.

“There are no stipulations from the state as to how a district spends that money? Am I understanding that correctly?” asked board director LeAnn Mick.

“Yes,” said the district’s business manager, Stephanie Juneau.

“Housing for two teachers doesn’t float many boats,” said Mick. “We’ve also talked about growing the Crested Butte school and building modulars. I’m not opposed to anything—I just want to know options before we spend the money on two houses.”

“We already have money earmarked for modulars,” said Tredway.

“Why do [the houses] have to be stick-built?” asked Mick. “Why not modular?”

“Those options will be explored,” said Tredway. “The nice thing is, we’re not on the hook for the land.” That’s because the town of Crested Butte has committed to donating a lot for the duplex.

“The rental stream could repay the investment over 15 years,” said Juneau.

Tredway emphasized a need to look ahead 30 years. “We have to be thinking long-term,” he said. He noted the near-impossibility of finding an affordable place to live in Crested Butte now, let alone years from now. “Even Gunnison is getting really tough,” he said.

“I’m very fiscally conservative and so is Stephanie. But this is a good investment. I don’t see this as a liability. I don’t see it as money out the door, and I believe people who teach at the community school ought to be able to live in the community,” said Tredway.

“The reason it’s in the draft budget,” added Juneau, “is because, if the budget is approved, it’s at least a possibility. If it’s not included in the budget, it won’t be possible.

“When Doug started talking to me about this idea, I didn’t want anything to do with it,” Juneau continued. “I didn’t want to have to deal with being a landlord, handling rents. After our meeting [in Crested Butte], now I see this as an investment, a way to bring good people in. We’re never going to pay a salary that’s enough to buy a house in Crested Butte. We’re never going to pay a $200,000 salary.”

Few changes had been made to the budget numbers since the May 22 meeting, and there were no questions or comments from the public at Monday’s meeting.

Juneau outlined a few key highlights:

—Enrollment is projected to grow 1.63 percent over last year.

—Per-pupil revenue is budgeted at an increase of 3 percent.

—Revenues should increase by $55,000, which represents the Counselor Core Grant.

—The budget includes an extra .4 percent increase across all positions for salaries.

“General fund expenses are now expected to exceed revenues by 25 percent,” said Juneau, but added, “This was not really unexpected.” That trend is expected to continue into the next few years. It will, Juneau assured, and Tredway agreed, be several years before we’ll have to consider going to the voters.

“We’ve eaten into the general fund in much bugger chunks in the past than we will this year,” said board president Marilyn Krill.

The general fund, used primarily for operations, is expected to be about $19 million, while the overall budget for 2017-2018 is approximately $22 million.

“We know we’re in good shape. We’re building entry-level salaries. Our physical plant is in better shape than a lot of districts close to us,” said Tredway.

The RE1J school board is expected to adopt the draft budget on June 26.

A comprehensive copy of the 2017-2018 budget will be available on the school district’s website, www.gunnisonschools.net.

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