October 16th, 2011 by John Creighton
As a community, we have a great deal to celebrate in the St. Vrain Valley. The community has provided tremendous support to the school district and the school district has produced results.
Despite $24 million dollars in reduced state funding over the past three years, as calculated by the Colorado Department of Education, St. Vrain has stayed true to the community-supported vision for our schools that was the basis for the 2008 mill levy override. Over the past few years, St. Vrain has:
- Increased instruction time for students at all academic levels including an additional 30 half-days for those most in need.
- Implemented a focus school programs that emphasize science, technology, math, leadership and the arts.
- Increased advanced course offerings available to secondary students.
- Made it possible for teachers to integrate technology into instruction through a district wide wireless school initiative.
- Maintained relatively small class sizes – in particular at the elementary level.
- Established unique partnerships with the business community to give students real-world learning experiences.
- Built schools to keep up with growth and improved existing schools to be safer for students and more energy efficient.
The results of these initiatives have been significant. More than one-third of St. Vrain schools are accredited with distinction based on Colorado performance measures. Importantly, the number of schools on improvements plans has been cut by more than half.
St. Vrain Valley schools have been recognized by the College Board, the U.S. Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Education and Bloomberg Businessweek to name just a few organizations that have noted St. Vrain’s excellence.
Most important, families and students are choosing St. Vrain. Despite stagnant population growth in the region, student enrollment has increased by more than 3,500 students over the past five years.
Yet, per pupil funding is lower than it was five years ago. According to Colorado Department of Education figures, funding to St. Vrain has been reduced by $943 per student. State policymakers estimate that another $200 to $300 per student will be cut from St. Vrain next year.
How has St. Vrain stayed the course on its strategic priorities in the face of massive reductions in funds? The short answer is district employees – with support from the community – have stepped up to the plate to protect students’ learning experiences.
Under Dr. Don Haddad’s leadership, the district finance team has identified more than $11 million dollars in permanent new revenues and savings. District staff has won more than $8 million dollars in grants. Support staff and administrators have been reduced to the point that more cuts would lead to diminishing returns. District employees agreed to a pay freeze and a soft hiring freeze – while workloads to implement new instructional programs, meet accountability standards and pick up the slack of a reduced workforce have increased.
St. Vrain administrator salaries, for better or worse, are among the lowest in the metro area. There has been no increase in central administrators despite a 20% growth in students since 2005.
Families and students have had to step up, too. Parent organizations are being asked to raise more money to fund school basics. Families are feeling the pinch of instructional and activity fees. The pressure on families will mount if there are more cuts in state funds.
Plans are in the works to garner more savings and new revenues in the coming years. The district will retire facilities too costly to maintain; increase services to home school families; expand St. Vrain Online Global Academy, and move toward self-funded health care as a way to provide better care, work with local providers and save money.
It will be difficult to stay the course in St. Vrain if the state continues to reduce education funding. A University of Denver study suggests that K-12 education funding in Colorado will be cut by 19% for 13 of the next 14 years if there are no changes to state policy. There are not enough efficiencies and innovations to make up for cuts of this magnitude.
That is why the St. Vrain Valley School Board endorsed Proposition 103 – a temporary, five-year increase in the state sales and income tax to ensure no further cuts to education. This initiative would raise the sales tax from 2.9% to 3.0% and the income tax from 4.63% to 5.0%. The same as it was in 1999.
The Colorado constitution requires voters to approve any increase in taxes at the ballot box. The St. Vrain Valley School Board encourages all voters to make an informed decision.
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This piece appeared as a guest opinion in the Longmont Times-Call on Sunday, October 16, 2011.