RFSD bond main focus of Issues & Answers forum
October 23, 2015
Among the smattering of ballot items discussed at Thursday night's Issues and Answers forum, 3B — Roaring Fork School District's $122 million bond issue —took center stage.
School board members Matt Hamilton and Karl Hanlon were on hand to explain the measure and take questions.
Hamilton began by summing up the five elements the bond is designed to address: A nearly complete overhaul of Glenwood Springs Elementary, the construction of a new school at Eastbank to minimize crowding in Glenwood schools, districtwide improvements to middle schools, housing to retain teachers and school safety.
The questions, submitted by attendees and read by KMTS radio News Director Ron Milhorn, touched on several elements.
Some were simple clarifications.
Where is Eastbank? South of Glenwood Springs along Highway 82, across the river from Ironbridge and just downhill from the future FedEx site.
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If the bond is rejected, does the $9 million state grant for Glenwood Elementary disappear? Yes, it does, and Hamilton doubts the opportunity will return anytime soon.
How much will it cost property owners? Residential tax would increase about $55 per $100,000, while commercial tax would spike $260 per $100,000.
Most questions were more pointed and issue oriented, tackling concerns including having a school outside of any town.
"Matt and I both struggled with the Eastbank school site a lot because it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere," Hanlon admitted. "The reality is that if you look at our student population, there are already more than 300 students that live in that area."
Hamilton echoed the sentiment.
"We're building a school for the neighborhood that exists today," he said.
As for traffic, Hanlon asserted that any impacts on Highway 82 would be offset by reduced traffic in town, particularly en route to Sopris Elementary.
Several questions touched on the decision to create subsidized teacher housing rather than simply paying more.
"There is simply no way that we can pay enough to cover that gap," Hanlon explained.
The district already allocates more than 80 percent of its budget to staff pay and doesn't have much wiggle room for more annual funding.
"We can only raise an additional 25 percent … through mill-levy overrides," Hamilton said.
Couldn't we work to improve teacher funding at the state level?
"Yes," board members agreed.
But, "We have responsibilities as a district and a board, and I'm not sure that we can wait," Hanlon said.
Asked whether the new Glenwood Springs Elementary buildings would hold up better than their predecessors, Hamilton compared it to a house — capable of lasting 100 years or more, but only if you take care of it.
Hamilton also emphasized that proposed middle school improvements are modifications, not complete overhauls.
"We have spaces in our schools that are really underutilized, and repurposing those is a huge gain for very little investment," he said.
Some questions seemed skeptical of the scope of the project, and one targeted the allocation of money for a bus maintenance facility that was originally planned as part of the 2004 bond.
Lacking an answer to the latter, the board members encouraged the anonymous questioner to ask district administration, which has previously blamed cost escalation for the failure to build it before.
That's all the more reason to pass the bond sooner rather than later, Hanlon said.
"There are no nice-to-haves on this list," he said. "These are all need-to-haves."
In addition to his role as bond proponent, Hanlon also was slated to participate in a Q&A for the District A school board race, but challenger Jennifer Rupert was unable to attend.
Instead, Milhorn read a statement by Rupert, and Hanlon gave his own.
Rupert wrote: "I'm the right person for the job, with the time and energy to serve the community. … As the parent of a third-grader, I have a vested interest in the success of our schools. I don't believe in unnecessary change, but I do believe it's important to always keep an eye toward the future."
Hanlon took a somewhat different tack.
"You won't see ads for me. You won't see me spending money on this campaign. I truly believe the heart of what's going in the valley right now is 3B," he said. "The reason I've been as successful as I have been is because of that public education I started out with."