Bond failure isn’t on school board’s radar

Nervous backers wonder what would happen
 
With a $55 million capital improvement bond question being posed by the RE1J school district on the November ballot, anxious parents and ballot question supporters have begun whispering about what might happen if the bond fails. The top question is whether or not high school students from Crested Butte could be sent to Gunnison for classes, as they were before the current school opened.

 

 

Nervous backers wonder what would happen

by Seth Mensing
 
With a $55 million capital improvement bond question being posed by the RE1J school district on the November ballot, anxious parents and ballot question supporters have begun whispering about what might happen if the bond fails. The top question is whether or not high school students from Crested Butte could be sent to Gunnison for classes, as they were before the current school opened.
“I have heard this rumor, and I would say that at this point in time there has been no official discussion as to what we would do if the bond failed,” says superintendent Jon Nelson.
If the rumor were true, the school board would have already discussed the possibility of a defeated bond. But according to board president MJ Vosburg, that topic has not yet come up.
“It’s not an idea that has been dealt with from the board’s standpoint. We haven’t had that discussion,” says Vosburg of a failed bond. “But we would have to figure out what to do in Crested Butte with the overcrowding.”
As of September 15, there were 510 students enrolled in classes at Crested Butte Community School, which was built to accommodate 350 students. Of those students, 218 are in sixth grade or above.
So where would they go? Unlike the days before the construction of the Crested Butte Community School, high schools at both ends of the valley are looking to expand. According to Nelson, there are already around 500 students in the Gunnison High School, which is nearing capacity for that building.
“There isn’t even enough room in Gunnison to put our Middle School there, let alone the entire high school,” says Vosburg.
That’s why she says the district has little choice but to pass the bond this time around. The process of bringing this bond to the voters started in 2007 and if it passes, the district is hoping to have students in the renovated buildings by the fall of 2010.
Should the bond fail, there could be another three-year process to have another bond question prepared. Over that time, Nelson and Vosburg agree, the costs of the project would increase dramatically, making it less attractive to voters, and the schools would continue to grow.
“How large are we willing to let the Crested Butte school get? Just in the second week of September there are five new students going through orientation and it is going to keep growing every year,” says Vosburg.
If growth were the only problem facing the schools, Vosburg says, the overflow might be handled with some alternative, like the modular buildings being used by the fourth and fifth grades at the Crested Butte Community School or renting another property in town.
But the issues facing the district are more than just growth. The bond will also pay for deferred maintenance at the district’s schools – maintenance that must be addressed regardless of the bond’s success.
According to Vosburg, “If the bond were to fail, we would have hard decisions to make, and expensive decisions to make.”
Some of those decisions could involve allowing students to attend a school where the structural integrity has been called into question, as it has at the Gunnison Valley School.
“If we had not put GVS in the bond issue there might not have been enough money in the general fund to improve the safety of that building,” says Vosburg, adding that maintenance issues would need to be prioritized at every site.  
With 85 percent of the district’s budget comprised of personnel costs, eventually money needed to cover maintenance would cut into the money that is available to pay district employees, potentially effecting the education students receive.
“That’s exactly the risk of not passing the bond. If we have to go to the general fund and start pulling money into temp fixes or renting facilities to make space at overcrowded sites, we are going to pull money away from instruction,” says Vosburg.

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