Miller: Summit County education highs and lows
At Colorado Mountain College, some 200 students graduate today in Summit County from the two-year college. Soon, it appears, CMC will become a four-year college, and with a brand-new campus in Breckenridge and a newly energized learning environment, it appears our local college will be a good alternative – or stepping stone – to our larger state universities. One CMC instructor told me recently the new campus has piqued interest in the college from students and their parents who now see it as a bit more legit now that it’s out of the creaky old building on Harris Street in Breckenridge (although I must admit to a certain fondness for that quirky place).That’s the good news on education locally. The bad is that Summit School District had to chop $867,000 out of next year’s school budget – and the following year looks to be even worse. As the Class of 2010 heads off to prom tomorrow night, they do so as the last in the foreseeable future that won’t have a cloud of financial uncertainty hanging over their heads. It’s a crummy place to put our kids, wondering which programs they sign up for may be cut, or looking at the very real possibility of larger and larger classes and reduced everything else (except fees, which will continue to go up). One interesting development on this front is the recent formation of the Summit Education Foundation. Many districts have nonprofit entities like this, which raise funds to help offset cuts and deficits elsewhere (Colorado alone has 26 of them, according to http://www.schoolfoundations.org). It certainly seems like a good idea for those who want to put their money – and time – where their mouth is. Although given the big numbers looming, it’s tough to imagine any number of bake sales or silent auctions will make a dent. That’s why the foundation is already looking at ways to help promote passage of a question likely to be on November’s ballot allowing the schools to keep part of a mill levy set to expire next year. Without a “yes” from voters, a deplorable situation handed to us from the state will be even more dire.I was impressed by the words of Chris Renner, a Breckenridge parent who attended the school board’s doomsday budget meeting a few weeks ago and was moved to incorporate the Summit Education Foundation as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit. In an e-mail to local principals, Renner wrote:”So a few of us parents began discussing options. How do we help get the mill levy passed? How else can we help fund the schools? Should we simply bail out of Summit County and start sending our kids over to Vail Mountain? Are we packing up and moving to another state? What about all the families who can’t afford those options? As for my family, we are committed to THIS community, going to PUBLIC school, and we aren’t leaving anytime soon…”Just as schools and teachers can’t be expected to provide for the complete education of our children, neither should we leave them hanging when circumstances beyond their control slash the budget. It seems clear the district is taking strong steps to cut expenses – and no doubt this first round uncovered some fat – but the 2011-12 school year will see cuts to the bone if nothing is done. Those who spend all their time criticizing the district’s contribution to the new turf field or the admirable effort to increase teacher salaries to a living wage for Summit County are not looking at the bigger picture. A good education takes money: for facilities, learning materials and basic admin and upkeep, but mostly for quality teachers who don’t want to work for peanuts. If we’re too cheap or selfish to pay what’s needed into the pool to provide a solid educational foundation for the sons and daughters of our community, then we may as well cede the whole place to the tourists and second homeowners.But I don’t think that’ll be the case. As it has in the past, the community will step forward in whatever ways necessary to help our schools. It only takes a little education on these gloomy numbers to appreciate the severity of the situation, and hopefully those inclined to vote “no” before they’ve even heard the story will take time to learn the facts.Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 668-4618.
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