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An acceptable burden

Our local school district faces the possibility that less revenue from the state will require big budget cuts next year — perhaps more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

This comes as no surprise: American public education has suffered any number of blows, budgetary and otherwise, for many years. As educators struggle to keep up in the classroom, the bottom line is always a factor. That a state like Colorado, with severe money problems, would trim funding, is a given.

The superintendent has compiled a “laundry list” of possible cuts, and they are what one would imagine: cutbacks in staffing of all types, changes to food service, furlough days, teacher contract day reduction, school transportation reductions, a salary freeze, professional development cuts, reduction of employee benefits, teacher contact day reductions, less spent on instructional supplies, reduced teacher extra duty pay. The list goes on.

What cuts portend is not simply a reduced budget, but reduced quality of education for local students.

The irony is this: Archuleta School District 50 Jt. has not indulged prodigal expenditures; it cannot be accused of being frivolous with its funds. For decades, the district has been a model of fiscal responsibility. The district has operated on less revenue than is ideal for the best education of local students. Our youngsters have long endured a system stressed to provide a decent, basic education. The notion that bells and whistles highlight our local school system is just that — a mere notion.

It is clear that cuts to the district budget will hurt local students. This district needs more teachers, more resources, not less. Local kids need more hours in the classroom, not fewer. Reductions in staff and contact hours, increases in class sizes, fewer instructional materials, will make the educational process more difficult, and the results far less than what most of us desire for Pagosa’s kids.

We say “most of us” because there are those who do not care about the local school system or the education it affords our youngsters. They do not care about the way in which we prepare our young people for life in an ever-more competitive world and for their roles in this society and economy. They resent the money they are “forced” to pay via taxes for education. They are often those who hoot loudest about their patriotism, their love of country, who make noisy, self-satisfied proclamations about their devotion to the American ideal. And they are often those who care the least about the real, and often difficult task of ensuring this nation survives, and thrives — 50 years from now, 100 years from now.

The first way to do this is to educate our young people as well as we possibly can, at whatever cost, as long as the funds are well spent.

We believe the way to handle an impending educational budget crunch is to take a mill levy increase to the voters.

Yes, it would involve higher taxes. The increase on an average property would not be a back-breaker, but it would add to a burden already considered extreme by many — following a year in which many property valuations rose dramatically. The notion of any additional tax, regardless of the amount, is difficult for some people to accept. If the request were for funds to purchase executive office products or to construct an unneeded facility, the additional levy would be unjustified. But, if the increase will maintain or improve the basic education of our young people …?

It is a burden we can and should bear. We must be vigilant about misspent tax money, revenues wasted by poorly run government. But, we repeat: this school district does not waste money, and never has. And there are few things as important as giving the youngest members of our community the greatest chance to move on, fully prepared to successfully carry forward a way of life we cherish.

Karl Isberg