Letter: School bond issue is ‘absolutely necessary’
In a recent “Our View” published by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Editorial Board advised caution in the form of a smaller Steamboat Springs School District bond issue in 2019. The suggestion to wait on building a new school and just proceed with projects slated for our current schools is not that simple.
The proposed new PK–8 and priority projects work together. Without a new school to redistribute enrollment, the construction plans at Soda Creek, Strawberry Park as well as the middle school will not relieve overcrowding at these existing sites. Furthermore, a classroom addition to the middle school is not currently part of the plan; it would need to be considered if a new school is not built.
Kicking the can down the road also comes with consequences that we want to ensure our community understands.
The longer we wait to build a new school, the more it will cost, as Colorado — especially the Western Slope — is experiencing a double-digit escalation in annual construction costs. If postponed a year or two, the $52.5 million PK–8 school being considered by the board will likely cost taxpayers $5 million to $10 million more. Instead of potentially opening a new school in two years, we will be opening a school in three to five years. That is a big gamble when our schools are full now.
The editorial’s speculation on current and future open enrollment is misguided. It is important to understand that there are only 107 open enrollment students (non-employee children) throughout our district. That equates to one student per classroom, districtwide. We manage open enrollment tightly and with the best interests of our students in mind. That means allowing a student to finish his senior year in our district after his family moves, or enrolling a young woman at Yampa Valley High School because the alternative is that she won’t finish high school. One child per classroom isn’t the problem. Our growth is coming from inside of our district.
As our enrollment has increased, we have hired new teachers and will continue to do so. However, we are running out of places to put them. At some schools, students learn in exterior trailers or makeshift classroom stations in hallways because of overcrowding. This fall, tables will be installed in the hallway outside the middle school cafeteria to accommodate an overflowing dining area. Additionally, the new applied-engineering class at the high school will be located in the former kitchen space at Seventh Street because the school doesn’t have space for this program.
The “Our View” is at odds with every group that has studied Steamboat Springs School District facility solutions in-depth over the past five years, including the district’s Advisory Committee and CC4E, which have come to the same conclusion: Our schools are full now and more students are coming. These groups have also presented similar visions: We must be prepared to serve our students in facilities and spaces that enhance learning.
We set out to build for the future because if we wait until the future is here, as the editorial suggests, we risk compromising learning environments, limiting students’ access to programming and diminishing the high-quality education that is synonymous with Steamboat. We are fully aware of the investment this plan requires. It’s an investment we would not recommend if we didn’t believe it was absolutely necessary for our students, our schools and our community.
Brad Meeks, superintendent
Joey Andrew, president of the Steamboat Springs board of education
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