November 2011

It’s time for tax foes to come up with solutions

Voters’ rejection of a bond measure that would have raised $3.4 million for the Cortez school district’s small but plucky alternative school, Southwest Open, was disappointing but hardly surprising.

The troubled economy, people’s dark mood and suspicion of anything to do with government, confusion about Southwest Open’s role, and Coloradans’ traditional fiscal conservatism combined to sink the proposal by a 56-44 percent margin.

It was in keeping with the larger picture: A plethora of other local election proposals failed around the state in the Nov. 1 election, along with the only statewide measure, Proposition 103, which would have temporarily boosted state income and sales taxes to earlier levels to provide $3 billion extra for Colorado’s entire school system, kindergarten through college.

Still, many locals thought that supporters of the charter school had made a solid case for passing the bond measure. It would have enabled the school to nab a state BEST grant, which would have brought into the county $7.4 million of non-tax funds (from lottery and school-trust-land proceeds). That’s new money from outside the area that would have triggered construction jobs and provided a little economic boost. More than that, it would have allowed a badly needed revamp of Southwest’s pathetic little campus – sorry, but there is no other word for a scattered collection of decades-old modular buildings that are cracking apart at the seams.

In the old days when the West was settled, citizens scraped and sacrificed to build churches and schools because they recognized how badly those were needed to create a well-rounded, healthy community. Today, the attitude has switched to one of resentment toward these cornerstones of society: “There go those dumb schools asking for money again.”

Certainly there are people who voted against the bond question because they are genuinely suffering in this depressed economy, but there are others who did it out of ignorance and mean-spiritedness, like the man who told one of our contributors, “If those kids don’t want to go to the regular high school, they can just go to jail.”

Then there is a contingent that rejects all taxes and bonds out of hand, regardless of their merits. These folks may not be mean-spirited, but they stretch every proposal over the short Procrustean bed of their rigid thinking, and if the proposal doesn’t fit – whack! there it goes.

The problem with this philosophy is that it provides no alternatives, no solutions. So we invite the folks who defeated the bond measure to step up to the plate. What’s the next step?

What should Southwest Open do? Dissolve itself, and quit providing an extremely valuable education for the students who want something that Montezuma- Cortez High School can’t offer them? Continue to limp along with leaking roofs and bad smells and dangerous conditions? Or wait till some halcyon day when the economy is booming, no one is strapped for cash, and another generous grant opportunity comes along?

Is there a role the private sector can play to help the school, in the absence of a bond measure? That’s what we’d like to hear.

We are somewhat heartened by the fact that, while Proposition 103 failed by a 64-36 margin statewide (and by a 60-40 margin in Montezuma County), the local measure for Southwest lost by a lesser margin. So clearly the message about the school’s needs got through to many people.

We hope community leaders will be thinking hard in the future about how to provide a good education for all our students. The entire Montezuma-Cortez district is suffering from budget cutbacks, inadequate buildings, and teacher salaries that are lower than in surrounding areas. What is the long-term answer, if more funding isn’t on the table?

One thing to keep in mind is this: In education, as in every other arena, you get what you pay for.

And any people who actually believe jail is a viable alternative to a “regular” high-school education need to go back to school themselves.