What kinds of enrichment are most crucial to an education? The arts? Athletics? Special elective classes? Essentially, what helps students "Climb the Peak”?
These questions are not easy to answer, but because of continued cuts to state education funding, that is exactly what the school board, staff members, students, and members of the community were forced to consider at the budget meeting last Thursday, January 19.
There are three distinct sections of the 2017/2018 budget. "In the beginning, we started with everything cut. Then, we added what we call Tier 1," explained board member Don Mort. "This includes all the things mandated by the federal and state government for us to be a school. This is 1st grade through 8th grade and one teacher for each core subject in high school."
Tier 2 includes the insurance and health expenses for the school. Since those two have already been discussed at previous board meetings, the so-called non-essentials were the main subject of this most recent meeting.
By 4 pm on Thursday, the APAC was filled with board members, parents, staff, and even a few students. "Because of the Sunshine Law, we have to make these decisions open to the public," said board member Kentee Pasek. "This way, we have the opportunity to get multiple perspectives on the issues."
There was a definite abundance of perspectives. "I just don't know which voice to speak with," said kindergarten teacher Kathy Gregory. "Should I speak for my child, or my class, or all of kids I've had as students, or the school as a whole? They all dictate slightly different advocating."
No matter the side of the problem, what it comes down to is that money needs to be conserved. The school’s projected revenue for next year will not cover all that we have now.
This is a result of politics at the state level. TABOR has limited revenues and all state programs have been facing cuts. While education is theoretically protected by constitutional amendment, the legislature has instituted what they call a “negative factor,” by which they have withheld an ever-increasing sum of funds. And even the state school board is not advocating to fully fund public schools.
"What it comes down to is that we are a public school,” said Ouray superintendent Scott Pankow. “All of the members of the Colorado State School Board, whether they identify as Democrat or Republican, want to invest their money and time into charter schools."
To be clear, the money the school received for the remodeling over the past year and a half has nothing to do with the current dilemma. "What we had was a grant," said Pankow. "We either could use that money for making our building a better learning environment or not use it at all."
The budget cuts are hard on everyone involved. "Our school may be small but we are big on academics, activities, and athletics," said Bernie Pearce. "We need to everything we can to maintain, sustain, and any other '-tain' you can think of, the Ouray School experience for our students."
Although we are one of the top districts in the state, it is not just the basic academics that make us great. "The thing I love most about my day is band," said senior Brendon Olin. "I'm taking it two periods out of the day my last semester because I love it so much. Mr Scott really is a great teacher."
"If I'm being honest, I wouldn't come to school if it weren't for sports," said senior Jordan Leo. "And I know a lot of people who agree with me. Sports give me happiness that most other things can't give."
The benefits of such great teachers and programs truly are making a difference in students lives. "We received a letter from former student Morgan Wright telling us what a difference Ms Alyssa makes and how the drama program changed his life," said Mort. "It means so much that students care about this issue even once they leave."
One solution that has been discussed amongst people in the school and community is combining schools with Ridgway. "As a business man, I really don't think that's a great idea," said parent and distillery owner John Wood. "A good school brings families. You hear stories about towns who absorb into the school 10 miles down the road and in a few year's time, the town completely disappears."
"This meeting's purpose is to get more opinions and perspectives than just those of the school board. We are starting the process early. No final decisions will be made until March," said Pasek. "Just know no matter what, we love the kids and we love Ouray. We are all a team. This isn't just a school. This is Ouray School."