MONTROSE — The Montrose Community School Improvement Team told the Montrose School Board Tuesday evening that the school district will need to ask voters for new tax revenue this fall to pay for essential improvements.
CSIT member Craig Wolverton told the board that interviews, polls and surveys identified critical areas in need of attention in the Montrose County School District RE-1J.
“We felt, in order of priority, that student achievement, staff retention and recruitment and facilities were our priorities," Wolverton said.
Wolverton told the board that next month the School Improvement Team plans to mail surveys to parents and district graduates to gather more data.
"We're trying to get a diverse opinion so that we’re getting not only those who have gone on to college, but those who have stayed and worked, and those that have maybe chosen to go into the military, so we have opinions from a variety of students who have already graduated about how prepared they feel in hindsight," Wolverton said.
For more than a year, the Community School Improvement Team, made up of volunteers and funded by donations, has worked with the district to take inventory of problems within district schools. Last fall the group initiated a school-by-school, teacher-by-teacher, administrator-by-administrator survey to identify concerns.
CSIT member Scott Stryker said those surveys are about "two-thirds," complete, with responses from Oak Grove and North Side elementary schools and Olathe middle and high schools still outstanding.
The school board agreed with CSIT members that the next major step is to win community support for more funding.
"The community will be the final piece, before we really try to put numbers to it, before we decide on a funding mechanism," Wolverton said.
District Superintendent Mark MacHale said that voters in 2002 passed a sales tax to back a bond issue to raise over $20 million to pay for construction costs over the past decade. Those bonds have been paid off.
MacHale said that CSIT last spring made recommendations to the board to seek new school funding either by raising sales taxes for capital improvements or a mill levy for district operating costs.
"Following up with the plan with parents, teachers and the community, we're going to have make some decisions to on what that funding will look like," MacHale said.
Replacing the ailing 60-year-old Columbine Middle School is one of the district's top priorities in the near future.
District Property Supervisor Jason Arebalos said Columbine lacks handicap accessibility and has numerous safety issues including blind spots and lack of cameras. Noting the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. last month, Arebalos said the front entrance to Columbine is of a huge concern to school safety officials.
MacHale said it would cost $10-12 million to replace the school and that the district is applying for a Building Excellent Schools Today grant at the beginning of March which could pay for half of the school's construction. He said that BEST funding is set aside through a state land trust created when Colorado was first given statehood.
Arebalos said this is the last year BEST would fund this type of project and the last year the district could apply, adding a member of BEST is traveling to Montrose to inspect Columbine soon.
If the district is granted money from BEST, the other half would need to be raised through a voter-approved sales tax increase this November.
Last fall voters in the West End of Montrose County turned down a similar tax, which would have funded half of a BEST grant to improve school infrastructure there.