County directs $740k to RE1J from Federal SRS funding

School superintendent grateful to county

By Cayla Vidmar

The Gunnison school district will be getting an unplanned boost in funding this year, as the county commissioners direct the full Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding amount—$742,955.11—to the district. A portion of the funding might be used for early childhood education while traditionally the money goes toward capital projects.

Federal SRS funds come from royalties and purchases from resource uses on public lands, including timber sales, mineral leases, mineral sales, grazing, etc., according to Shane Walker, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest (GMUG) planning and information staff officer. This funding is not always available to counties, as it is not always authorized by Congress. According to county manager Matthew Birnie, the last time the county received SRS funds was in 2016 to the tune of $870,736, and was split half and half between the county and the school.

Leslie Nichols, Gunnison County school district superintendent, noted the irregularity of the funding during a call, saying “we’re very pleased of course that the county was able to pass through on 100 percent of the SRS funding this year, and while we are thrilled, this is a very unreliable funding source.” She explained, because of this, the funds typically go into the capital reserves funds, which goes towards projects like affordable housing, and school facilities expansion.

County commissioner John Messner asked if there is some way to encourage the school district to use some of the funds for early childhood education. Birnie said that commissioners could encourage whatever they like, and can in fact specify the funds to be used for specific projects.

Messner said, “My point here is that if short term capacity is an issue [for early childhood education], whether that’s facility related or staffing related, is there an opportunity to utilize the SRS funding in order to make an immediate impact?”

He continued, saying, “I’m not suggesting we build a huge building with the SRS funding, but is there $150,000 that can go to support some sort of … early childhood education accelerator program?”

Commissioners Messner, Jonathan Houck and Phil Chamberland weren’t inclined to specify the funds but did want to encourage a conversation with the school district to direct some of the SRS funding towards early childhood education.

Nichols supports this idea, stating “I think it’s fantastic, I’m thrilled to share the commissioners value that early childhood development is essential to the community, the district and families here.”

Chamberland moved to disperse the full SRS funding to the school district, with the understanding that there will be a discussion on using some of the funding for early childhood education. The motion was approved unanimously.

 

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