Apparently hoping to recoup some of the political capital lost following a failed bond initiative last November (defeated by a 74-26 percent margin), the board of the Archuleta School Board 50 Joint hosted a public forum Tuesday night that was meant to engage area residents in a process for addressing the issue of the district’s aging school buildings.
However, the board did not get what it was hoping for, strictly speaking. A majority of the “community” in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting was composed of residents who had spoken out in opposition to the bond during the run up to last November’s vote (several in attendance had published Letters to the Editor in The SUN stating their objections to the bond issue). Only a few of those local residents said they had voted in support of the bond.
The tepid attendance was noted by board and audience members alike.
“I’m not sure we really have the community involvement that we really need, yet,” said board director Pete Kasper.
However, the ratio of bond supporters to opponents most likely reflected the margin represented in the November vote tally.
Despite their previous opposition to the bond, several of the attendees expressed opinions that suggested the board could develop a plan that would meet with voter approval.
In fact, several attendees asked the board for direction, should the district decide to compose a committee for addressing the need for improved or new schools. Others asked that the board not exert an undue amount of influence on whatever committee might be formed to investigate issues facing district buildings, then accept the findings that committee might deliver to the board.
Several members referred to the experience of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s Community Water Resource Work Group (CWRWG) — a committee formed to investigate the water needs of the district.
At first, PAWSD set up the CWRWG with several questions and stipulations that the district felt would eliminate some of the negative public opinion directed at PAWSD (especially in regards to a proposed 35,000 acre-feet reservoir at Dry Gulch).
In the end, the CWRWG took on a life of its own, ultimately shifting the direction that PAWSD had previously taken.
Speaking to that experience with the CWRWG, local resident Jan Clinkenbeard (a member of the CWRWG and currently on the PAWSD board) asked the school board, “Are you willing to accept a self-appointed board with self-appointed leadership?”
Claiming that predetermined outcomes and agendas would be counterproductive in finding a way to present an initiative acceptable to voters, Bob Clinkenbeard said that a facilities task force should not be overly controlled by the district board.
“It’s a mistake to try and steer the discussion,” Bob Clinkenbeard said. “It should have the freedom to brainstorm.”
Although a few audience participants expressed doubts that the district was accurate in its assessments of the condition of several buildings, most others acknowledged the need to provide area students with better facilities. Furthermore, those who agreed that something is needed to address the condition of area schools added that the district needed to approach voters with a more compelling argument for increasing taxes.
Local resident Fred Bunny asked the audience how many had children in schools. Less than a third of the audience raised their hands to answer Bunny’s question.
“See this group right over here, folks?” Bunny said, indicating a group that had not raised their hands, adding, “that’s part of the problem. The community consists of a large portion of senior citizens who had kids in school. ‘I’m paying for it and I’m paying for it again.’ That’s the attitude, that’s the trend you expect to see in the senior citizens. However, we all still have a vested interest in the country as a whole and the children as its future.
“So the first thing you’ve got to do is concentrate on what?” Bunny continued. “Cost. Why didn’t I vote for it? Cost. It’s too expensive at this point in time.
“This elephant is too big. Let’s try and take this elephant one bite at a time,” Bunny said.
Bunny’s suggestion was repeated by several other audience members, most of whom recommended that the district address issues in small portions.
“I suggest that you not try and bite off too much. We obviously have immediate problems that need to be solved,” said Bruce Dryburgh, adding that he believed the district would be better off prioritizing its needs before going back to the voters.
However, bond supporters in the audience were adamant that the community needed to support better school buildings — although not necessarily a combined campus — and that area voters need to think about the safety and welfare of district students before issues of the pocketbook.
By the end of the meeting, it was clear that the board intends to schedule another public forum prior to soliciting participation in a committee for the district’s facilities needs. Although the board did not establish a date for its next public forum, what was certain by the end of the meeting was that the issue of area schools was far from settled (despite November’s defeat of a bond initiative).
Nevertheless, one positive result from Tuesday’s forum was the suggestion that voters on both sides of the school issue might come together to find a common solution.