Superintendent Dave Ulrich: Some difficult but necessary steps
As many constituents of Moffat County School District are aware, we have begun the process of identifying an elementary building to close at the end of the school year. This decision will not be taken lightly by the board of education. In the face of trying financial times, previous boards and superintendents have made difficult choices by cutting staff and deferring maintenance. The time has come for us to take a hard look at how we can “mine for dollars” and ensure our taxpaying public that the district is doing everything it can to be good stewards of our resources. MCSD has engaged the Blythe Group from Grand Junction to guide us through this work. Initially, the Moffat County School District Board of Education authorized the school district to enter into a contract not to exceed $92,000. I am happy to report that, after further negotiations, the final contract is less than $70,000. If we maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of this decision, the closure will allow us to capture up to $750,000 in operational savings. This savings will be realized every year and represents nearly the equivalent of asking citizens and businesses to raise their taxes by two mills.
There are several questions I consistently get from parents and other stakeholders. I will do my best to address them here:
First, “Why is the district making this decision?” We are taking this step due to a significant reduction in student enrollment since 1999. Since that time, our district enrollment has fallen by over 16 percent. Yet, as a district, we maintain the same amount of square footage to educate our students. This is evidence that we are not using your resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Second, “Has a decision already been made?” I can assure you there has been no decision about which elementary building will close. During the process of making the determination, we will provide opportunities for stakeholders to hear about our progress. Details about the first round of meetings can be found below.
Third, “What criteria are being used to make the decision?” There is one primary criterion: The building that would make the least sense to reinvest in for the future. As we look to educate not only this generation of Moffat County students, but also the next generation, we can save significant taxpayer dollars by making the right choice.
Fourth, “Will class sizes be higher?” Yes, class sizes will be higher; however, based on current enrollment and future projections, class sizes will remain within the board of education’s regulations. The Blythe Group’s work will include redrawing the boundaries of the remaining 3 elementary schools to equally distribute students as best as possible.
Fifth, “What will be done with the annual savings?” Moffat County School District currently has several groups in place that will determine how best to utilize the operational savings. The key is to use the funds to do more and better things for our students.
Sixth, “Will any elementary school teachers lose their jobs?” The reduction in elementary school teaching positions is fewer than the typical amount of annual turnover for elementary teachers. If this number stays consistent, no teachers will be involuntarily released.
Seventh, “Will the remaining three schools be traditional Pre-K-5th grade?” While this is a possibility, it is not a stipulation of Blythe’s work. There are many ways the remaining buildings could be configured. This will be part of Blythe’s recommendations.
Eighth, “What will happen to the closed elementary building?” The district has already heard several ideas for how the building could be repurposed for use by others. There are many needs in the community that could be met by the vacated facility. This could take the form of a partnership with the city and/or county.
Finally, “When will the decision be announced?” Barring unforeseen circumstances, the announcement will be made at the December board of education meeting.
Opportunities to learn more: The first round of visits by the Blythe Group will be later this month. Members of the public are encouraged to attend the meeting that best fits your schedule. The agenda for the meetings will be identical and include a brief introduction by me and a presentation of the facts by Blythe Group representatives. The hour-long meetings will be Sept. 19 and 20. Topics will include updates regarding Colorado Department of Education condition deficiencies, estimated costs to correct those deficiencies, current school boundaries, student distribution and operation and maintenance costs.
• Sept. 19:
o 4:30 p.m., Craig Middle School
o 5:45 p.m., Sandrock Elementary School
o 7 p.m.. East Elementary School
• Sept. 20:
o 4:30 p.m., Moffat County High School
o 5:45 p.m.. Sunset Elementary School
o 7 p.m., Ridgeview Elementary School
I know this will be a difficult decision for our schools and community. Please be assured that I am committed to open, transparent communication throughout the process. I am confident that this will allow us to do more and better things for our students and help us live our mission to educate and inspire our students to thrive in an environment of change.
In an effort to make coal more competitive against natural gas and renewable energy sources, two of the nation’s largest coal companies, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have announced that they plan to combine assets in Colorado and Wyoming. Routt County’s Twentymile Mine would be managed under the new joint venture.