Basalt kids ask for town’s help to stay in school after eviction
Kids living in the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park asked Wednesday night for help remaining in the Basalt school system after their families are evicted April 1.
Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon said help is available if the parents of the kids accept it.
The latest chapter in the saga of the closure of the mobile home park featured a news conference where 10 kids from four families living in the Pan and Fork gave short presentations on why they want to stay put through the school year.
“If you take our trailer, at least let us finish our school year,” said Jonathon Gonzalez, an eighth-grader at Basalt Middle School.
Ninth-grader Angel Castillo said he is proud to go to Basalt High School. If his parents are evicted before the end of the school year, they likely will have to go to Rifle, he said. That will force his family to spend too much of its limited income on gas for commuting, he said.
Maria Isabel Martinez, a – grader, said she doesn’t want to move from Basalt because it’s hard to make new friends.
Those were recurring themes in the presentations of the 10 kids. They held posters that said, “I love Basalt,” “Help us stay in Basalt,” “Basalt is our Home” and “I am Basalt.”
While the news conference was dramatic, it doesn’t solve the problem, Scanlon said. The town will progress with a project that requires the residents to vacate the trailer park by April 1, he said. But to address the specific concerns about evicting families before the end of the school year, the town has come up with a new option for aid, he said.
Scanlon said the town will take money that would have been offered to the remaining families in a financial settlement package and apply it to the town’s purchase of mobile homes in the midvalley. He has leads on financing to complete the purchases of an estimated five mobile homes, he said.
The holdout families will be able to rent those units for the remainder of the school year, which ends in early June, or they could buy the units at market value, Scanlon said.
The town also buy would bus passes from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to get the kids to school for the remainder of this year, Scanlon said.
If the housing turns out to be a short-term solution for the families and they vacate the residences at the end of the school year, the town will sell them, according to Scanlon.
The town has offered settlement packages to the majority of Pan and Fork residents, some of them owners and some of them renters. The government paid between $15,000 and $25,000 per household in relocation costs based on a specific formula applied to each trailer.
A handful of residents don’t want to accept the offers. They have formed Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt to provide a collective bargaining voice. The members of the group also hired Aspen attorney Ryan Kalamaya to represent them. A Denver-based nonprofit group called Colorado Immigrants Right Coalition is paying for the legal aid and offering advice.
Instead of direct negotiations between the town government and the five to eight families, communication has been handled in recent weeks through methods like the news conference by the Workers for Justice and emails from Scanlon to the media that are intended to send a message to the residents.
Scanlon expressed frustration in an email Wednesday that negotiations “have been placed in limbo” since Workers for Justice hired the attorney.
“Mr. Kalamaya’s approach seems to be based on rallies, worker meetings, tweets, websites and press releases and now press conferences with kids,” Scanlon wrote. “The latest press conference is aimed at saying the town is kicking the children out of their schools by not allowing them to stay past April 1. This isn’t true. We have housing options that allow the kids to stay in their schools.”
Scanlon said the parents of the concerned kids could solve their housing dilemmas if they approach the town for specific negotiations on their situations — and pledge not to file a lawsuit against the town.
“The solutions are within our grasp, but we need willing partners,” Scanlon said.
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