Crisis is a great motivator. For those who are overwhelmed by crisis, whose routines and expectations are interrupted beyond repair, the crisis can cripple them. They retreat into their shells, throw up their hands and surrender to the problems.
For others — those who have the will, the desire to change in positive ways, the courage to face uncertain conditions and adversity, and the creative resources to design new solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems — crisis is an opportunity for gain.
When we look at the current financial dilemma faced by Archuleta School District 50 Jt., we find the perfect crisis scenario— perfect in the sense that the demands of the situation are such that something must be done; there is no choice but to act. The more creative the action, the more courageous, the better.
Wielding a blade to trim huge amounts of money from budgets in the next two years is but the first step in the process. There is more to do, for administrators and staff, for parents, for those who want to be actively involved in the salvation of the system.
There are ideas at hand for reducing costs. The trick is to distinguish cuts that can be made without adversely affecting the educational experience of Pagosa’s youngsters. The world they inhabit will not reward marginal knowledge and skills. This community, this country, will not survive if our children are not prepared as well as possible.
Creativity is in demand, and we add here an idea that could involve more than the school district. The major local tax-collecting entities— county government, PAWSD, town government, the fire protection and health service districts — provide benefit packages to their employees. Could those entities pool their efforts and seek plans that serve all of them? Is there something in this, and ideas like it?
But, with all the cuts, there remains a need to raise revenues for the district — to temper the current deficit and to allow for creativity to come into play as far as the future of local education is concerned. How to do it? Some suggest a sales tax increase in town (a Home Rule government with the ability to slightly exceed state limits). Proponents suggest this tax would be “fair” in that everyone would pay the tax. Not exactly true, since only those shopping inside town limits would pay the tax. Also, the town lives on sales tax revenues — revenues that have been declining. Why would the town want to give up its only safety net?
A mill levy? Again, not entirely fair, in particular for absentee property owners without the right to vote, and owners of vacant land and commercial property who pay disproportionately high property taxes. Plus, there is a sizable contingent of folks in Pagosa Country who loudly proclaim their allegiance to all things good and American while, at the same time, refusing to pay a cent more in taxes, even if that cent is a guarantee against future ruin of country and community. There is scant courage in this crowd. A mill levy increase will be a hard fight.
Courage and creativity are necessary. Now, and beyond this crisis.
For what the situation also brings is an opportunity for administrators, staff, parents and students to revamp the current approach to education — to alter much of what has become rote for the district in terms of instruction, activities and schedules. It is an opportunity to streamline finances, trim unnecessary staff and facilities, and to make fundamental changes such as closing buildings and going to a suggested four-day school week (hopefully, with an extended school year — say a month of extra classes). It is a way to utilize staff more effectively, add (yes, add) classes, in particular at the high school level.
With the aid of all who are concerned about the future of this community and country, with creative and courageous ideas and changes, and by discovering a way in which to provide the funds to support those ideas and changes, we can make this crisis work out for the best.