Debbie Spyker: Demographics study does not support a new school
After spending a lot of time studying Steamboat Springs School District’s demographics report, I have concluded that there is no need to build any school at this time since the district can’t adequately maintain current structures or provide staff raises. There is no need to rush to spend $60 million plus to build a new elementary school by 2021 when projected elementary enrollment is declining over the next five years.
When development materializes to the west of town, the census does not include 120 out of district students and enrollment increases by several hundred students, then the topic can be revisited when those new residents come onto the property tax rolls.
• Traffic concerns: The location of the Whistler school at a dead-end street requires significant infrastructure improvements, possible eminent domain and major traffic disruption through an established neighborhood. The traffic study reports significantly more disruption and safety concerns for Whistler compared to the Steamboat II site, yet the board of education continues to lean toward the Whistler site. Why?
• Cost transparency: No detailed cost projections have been provided to support the value of $60 million plus. The public is told that the cost estimates are “all in,” and yet when questioned, no one can confirm the projected costs of the infrastructure — dedicated bridge, road improvements, sidewalks, eminent domain and the cost to purchase the Mount Werner Water land.
• Property tax increase: Projected property tax increase approaches 40% — 20% increased valuations and 20% mill levy, which is $300 per $500,000 of value for individuals and $1,240 per $500,000 of value for businesses.
• Deferred maintenance: For the second time in two years, the board of education is asking for money to maintain existing facilities because it does not have sufficient funding to take care of existing infrastructure.
• Staff salaries: The budget for current staff salary increases has not been finalized, and the funding source for the current increase is not clear. However, the board of education is asking for a $3 million mill levy override to fund new salary commitments.
Given the demographics study does not support the argument to build a new school at this time, serious consideration must be given to funding the needed upgrades to existing schools and providing teacher salary increases. Pushing for a very expensive school in the wrong location — the Whistler site — that is not needed will doom the bond to fail.
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