It has been gratifying to see the breadth and depth of support for the school bond. I truly believe it is the result of a multi-year process that has been both organic and inclusive as evidenced by the way in which the current expansion plan was developed. The leadership of the school district heard concerns from the community about its original plan, about the loss of the soccer field and about the uncertainty of future enrollment growth given the current economic conditions. And we worked with the community to develop a solution that is widely embraced. So it is in that spirit of cooperation and communication that I would like to address and clarify some key points regarding the expansion and the bond issue.
First, about 10 percent of the current student body is out-of-district enrollment. An obvious question that stems from that is why couldn’t the school limit that enrollment to create some of the needed classrooms? The pragmatic truth is that the 70 or so out-of-district students currently enrolled are spread across all 13 grades so eliminating those students would not create classroom space. As it is, the school district turns away prospective out-of-district students if their enrollment would create an excessive class size. Absent that, the school must, by law, accept out-of-district students. It’s a Colorado mandate. It should also be noted that there is undeniably some economic benefit to the local economy by having those kids and their parents commuting everyday to Telluride.
Second, the school makes space available to other organizations during the school year, most notably the two classrooms used by the Telluride Early Childhood Center (TECC). Although pushing TECC out the door may create a couple of classrooms, it would only exacerbate the well known dearth of pre-school capacity. Moreover, TECC handles a disproportionately high number of disabled kids as well as non-English speaking (ELL) children. Pushing them onto other programs would create an enormous strain within our community. And frankly I can’t escape a sense of moral hypocrisy giving an important educational platform the boot from an educational institution. That’s not what our values have been or should ever be. Many, if not most, of those kids will eventually be students in our school.
Third, a portion of the bond proceeds are being used for significant repairs and upgrades to the elementary school, including a new roof and boiler system. So why shouldn’t that funding come from the school’s existing capital reserves? The school’s current reserves are used for regular maintenance and emergency projects and can’t be drained for major capital expenditures such as these. It’s simply more practical and judicious to fund them with long term debt since their “shelf-life” is more commensurate with the term of the bond (20 years).
Finally, I would like to suggest that this bond issue is about far more than eight classrooms and a new boiler system and roof. At last there is widespread agreement that our nation’s teaching methods and curriculum must be transformed to globally compete more effectively. The centuries-old gravity approach is finally being shown the door and teaching our kids to be great learners and to know what to do when they don’t know what to do are becoming the mantras of curriculum development. And we are blessed to have the academic leadership in Telluride that’s making that happen as we speak. One need only to look at our test scores and shake hands with the Superintendent and Teacher of the Year to get a glimpse of how fortunate we are to live in a community that values and invests in its educational system.
Approving this bond gives the school the tools and added infrastructure it needs to remain one of the best schools in the state and among the most innovative. We need more classrooms to keep our class sizes at current levels. We need the technology funds to advance our 21st century learning curriculum. We need funds to assure more housing so we can recruit and retain great teachers. In sum, we need the funds to remain a truly great school because the impact of the alternative, in my view, is awfully sobering.
Thanks in advance for your support of Question 3A.