Montrose Schools Need Cash Fast
by William Woody
Mar 01, 2013 | 1451 views | 1 1 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NEEDS WORK – Montrose School District RE-1J Board President Dr. Kjersten Davis (left to right), Community School Improvement Team member Melanie Hall and resident Jim Branscome spoke at Tuesday’s meeting called to address long-overdue improvements needed throughout the district. (Photo by William Woody)
NEEDS WORK – Montrose School District RE-1J Board President Dr. Kjersten Davis (left to right), Community School Improvement Team member Melanie Hall and resident Jim Branscome spoke at Tuesday’s meeting called to address long-overdue improvements needed throughout the district. (Photo by William Woody)
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DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT  Mark MacHale addressed the audience during a special meeting held on Tuesday Feb. 26. (Photo by William Woody)
DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT Mark MacHale addressed the audience during a special meeting held on Tuesday Feb. 26. (Photo by William Woody)
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Student Achievement Trending Downward as Race to Compete Heats Up



MONTROSE – Improving student achievement, now trending downward in relation to both state and neighboring districts, is the number one priority, with teacher recruitment and retention coming in second according to a comprehensive report compiled by the Montrose Community School Improvement Team.

The results of the long-awaited report were presented to the Board of the Montrose RE-1J School District, City of Montrose staff and counsilors, educators and interested parties Tuesday night at a heavily attended meeting.

Many in the audience said improved student achievement will require improved resources, kindergarten through graduation, aimed at making "students better suited for 21st century jobs."

Fourteen months ago, the volunteer-comprised CSIT began its school-by-school, teacher-by-teacher, administrator-by-administrator survey. CSIT member Melanie Hall reported class sizes unprecedented in district history, with students using antiquated computers and "textbooks over ten years old." Students "don't have the hardware the software or access to the internet," Hall said.

District Superintendent Mark MacHale further described district technology, much of it dating back to the 1990s, as "archaic, pathetic and frustrating,” saying it reflects “a huge gap” between Montrose and school technology elsewhere.

The report drew concerns from the audience. "When I heard about your technology problems, I said, this is unbelievable,” said Montrose resident Jim Branscome. He went on to say that “it seems to me to be a crime, almost, to have technology” that takes kids up to 20 minutes just to log on.

Branscome asked district officials if equipping students with iPads or laptops could feasibly to allow students to progress to a level that enables them to better prepare for the challenges of a global society.

“I would love to put a laptop in each one of my kids’ hands,” MacHale replied, but the lack of internet access is problematic. “The jail has it,” he said, of internet access, “and we don't.”

According to report, Montrose teachers, "are severely behind other districts" in developmental services and support, and often feel "overwhelmed, untrained and unappreciated."

"The best way to retain teachers,” Hall aid, “is to support the teachers you have." She went on to say that, with staff wages stagnant and teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses for school supplies mounting, teachers today are acting more as "classroom managers."



BRICKS AND MORTAR

Most schools in the district, with $125 million worth of school properties – the total area is a whopping 760-thousand square feet – are in some need of repair; most critically so is the ailing 60-year-old Columbine Middle School. "A learning environment in a constant state of repair does not reflect a positive learning environment," Hall observed, of the school that, according to District Property Supervisor Jason Arebalos, would cost $13.5 million to replace.

Arebalos said he was submitting an application for a Building Excellent Schools Today grant this week that he hopes will deliver $6.7 million toward building a modern, energy efficient school (another $6.7 million would have to be generated locally).

MacHale said the verdict on BEST funding, set aside through a state land trust created when Colorado was first given statehood, should be in by July 1.  “We’re not talking about doing this all at once,” he said, of generating matching funds, going on to emphasize that the CSIT list of priorities would be separated out from the issue of replacing Columbine.

MacHale said district’s recommendations – including a return to reasonable class sizes, major technology, security and  instructional material upgrades, and staff development – would cost $3,288,000 annually, roughly one-half of the $7 million the district has cut from its budget in recent years. To raise those funds, he said, voters would have to pass a mill levy or sales tax initiative in November.

The audience rejected suggestions of an annual sales tax increase of 0.9 percent if the district was its sole benefactor, but seemed receptive to the suggestion of partnering the school district with the Montrose Recreation District and the City of Montrose in a bid for community support. On that front, “I suggest it they want to go that route it would come from the people, not from the council,” suggested Montrose Mayor Thomas Smits.

“Let’s tear up the system and figure out what we can make work with the dollars we have available,” said  Branscome, “and let’s communicate those ideas to the community – that we are not just doing more and more of the same old stuff.

“We are going to turn it upside down and say by God were not satisfied with being average in Montrose County. To hell with average, we’re going to be above average,” Branscome said, to applause.

MacHale said he and School Board President Kjersten Davis are readying a months-long public outreach campaign to gather support.

"Dr. Davis and I will gladly take our show on the road," MacHale said.



wwoody@watchnewspapers.com

Twitter.com/williamwoodyCO

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jc@onetrack.net
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March 01, 2013
A district wide technology refresh program was implemented between 2000-2004. None of the district's technology dates back to the 1990's. In fact, MOST of the technology, computers, phones, etc. were completely replaced between those years. The refresh program ceased after 2006 or so.