Our View: Soroco enrollment must be addressed | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Soroco enrollment must be addressed

At issue

Though faced with a continuing decline in enrollment numbers, residents of the South Routt School District deeply oppose consolidation with the Steamboat Springs School District

Our view

We appreciate the desire of South Routt to keep its school local, and although consolidation may not be the best answer, the problems are real and demand real solutions

— On Dec. 14, members of the South Routt Board of Education spent an hour and a half fielding questions and addressing concerns from a room full of district residents, almost all of whom showed up to voice their disdain concerning the idea of consolidating with the larger Steamboat Springs School District.

Board president Jules Palyo said the sudden resurgence of discussion about possible consolidation was aroused, at least in part, by a series of three articles published in Steamboat Pilot & Today in mid November titled “The State of Soroco.”

The series offered an in-depth look at the situation in South Routt, which has faced declining enrollment in recent years and, last year, saw a drop of 40 students from fall 2014 to fall 2015. The final article in the series touched on the idea of consolidation with the Steamboat Springs School District, which some South Routt students already attend through open enrollment.

We understand the concerns of the residents who attended the meeting, we recognize how intimately a community’s identify is tied to its local school and we appreciate South Routt residents’ desire to keep their local school local.

But the purpose of our series was not to lobby in favor of consolidation, but rather to call attention to the problems facing the district with the hope of rekindling a conversation on ways to address them.

The subject keeps coming up because declining enrollment in the Soroco district is an ongoing problem, and it’s not a problem that’s apt to solve itself. No matter how fine the educational opportunities in South Routt are, its communities will likely always be home to residents who work in Steamboat and want their kids in school there.

And as the capacity of Steamboat schools inevitably grows into the future, the issue of declining enrollment in Soroco will likely become even more acute as more South Routt parents seek to enroll their children in schools near their places of employment. State law — which mandates districts must accept out-of-district students so long as capacity allows — has unintended consequences in communities such as ours, where some 80 percent of people living in Hayden and Oak Creek work in Steamboat.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s also reality.

So while we can respect what the South Routt community wants, we must also recognize that pride in a local school district — justifiable though that pride may be — cannot alone turn the tide of decreasing enrollment, and simply maintaining the status quo isn’t going to keep the Soroco district strong. 

That’s why we encourage the South Routt Board of Education — and the South Routt community at large — to begin realistically discussing the situation and exploring options that might work to reverse it.

The district has already been talking about how to better market itself, and there has also been discussion of opening a new school in Stagecoach to keep students there in the district. These are good ideas that deserve consideration, and engaging in a candid dialogue about them seems a far more constructive use of time and resources than spending 90 minutes rehashing how adamantly opposed the community is to consolidation.

We hope South Routt is able to remain in its own district — there are innumerable advantages to educating children in local schools, and keeping the school local seems to be the overwhelming desire of the community. But unless something is done to reverse the trend of declining enrollment numbers, that may not be a realistic option in the long-term.

The problem isn’t going away; it must be faced, addressed and solved. Clearly, consolidation isn’t a solution that’s palatable to the community, so it’s time the community came together and devised a solution that is.

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