Leadville News – January 23

School Choice: The ABCs of 123s

By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today

 This week marks National School Choice Week (NSCW) which celebrates all of the K – 12 education options that parents can choose for their kids. In essence, it means giving parents the power to select the best education environments for their children.

The Lake County High School Class of 2018 shows off their Panther Pride at the 2016 Homecoming Parade in Leadville. Photo: Leadville Today

And while guidelines and restrictions vary from state to state, 68% of Americans support school choice. In fact, recent studies indicate that fewer than 1/3 of Millennials think your address should determine your school.  And from the looks of the numbers calculated on October 1, 2017 – the official “Student Count” day for Colorado, Lake County families agree.

“While the Student October Count is often referred to as a one-day count,” explained Joyce Rankin Colorado Board of Education Representative for the Third Congressional District, which includes Leadville and Lake County, “it is more involved than that in reality.”

But complicated or not, this is how the rules for the “Administration of the Public School Finance Act of 1994 (1 CCR 301-39)” work.  And in turn, those rules determine enrollment count requirements, which in turn provide funding to districts based on student headcount.

Readers may recall the Student Choice story that Leadville Today did one year ago for NSCW in January 2017. That report indicated that a growing number of students from the local school population has opted out of the Lake County School District. Where are they going? And what choices are available for families when you live in America’s Highest City?   

Students from Lake County School District gather for a musical presentation in the high school auditorium. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

In honor of National School Choice Week, Leadville Today will be reporting on school options, in Lake County and beyond. Have you been wondering how many kids are headed south to Buena Vista (BV) every morning? LT has that number (hint: they added a second school bus this year!) And what about the local public charter school, Greater Heights Academy now that they restructured back into to K – 8th grade model? LT has gathered the data and is here to report the official “Student Count” numbers for the 2017-18 school year. 

For today’s School Choice post, things start at home. Home of The Panthers. Home of the Lake County School District.

Home Grown in America’s Highest City

The little red schoolhouse south of town at the Malta Curve is one of the most photographed scenes in Lake County. And rightfully so. Officially known as The Malta Schoolhouse, this quaint educational institution was built in 1902, after the original schoolhouse burned down. This “second” Malta School operated from 1902 to 1945.

But for photographers, it’s the school’s dramatic backdrop, especially when it’s covered in snow – that makes that bright red color POP. The nostalgia of that one room schoolhouse paints its own picture of a much simpler time in education, many years ago.

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The Malta Schoolhouse located on Highway 24 south has been seeing lots of blowing snow and low-visibility in the area as the snow continues to move through Leadville Today. Photo: Jennifer B. Rogowski.

Leadville has always taken the education of its children seriously. Did you know that it was a schoolhouse, not a courthouse, or even a church, that was the first building constructed in Leadville? And because the school district has been around for so long, often the only school option in the area for decades before all of the resort growth, its academic reputation during the first part of the 20th century was head and shoulders above the rest of the state.

The 21st century has not fared as favorably for the home of the Panthers. Budgetary challenges, teacher and staff retention issues, student safety concerns have all made headlines for the LCSD since the turn of the last century. Academically LCSD continued to stay in the basement, when it came to testing and ranking among neighboring school districts or other charter options offered in Leadville. Eventually parents took notice and systematically began enrolling their children in these classrooms, making the sacrifice of commuter time over treacherous mountain passes, not to mention the extra drive time for all of the extra-curricular activities their children were involved with at school.

Today, the Lake County School District includes West Park Elementary, Lake County Intermediate, Lake County High School, and the district’s administrative building at 107 Spruce Street.

Over the last four years, the LCSD has seen a sharp rise in capital (facility) improvements, including a $26m remodeled high school (2013), upgrades to playgrounds (2016/17), and a new intermediate school gym and roof improvements (2016/17). And while it took some time before the academic improvement kept pace with construction, the beginning of this school year saw the district receive some good news from the State Board of Education with a flourishing of rating increases across the board at nearly all grade levels (STORY).

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Lake County High School saw a jump in its state 2017 assessment rating., but is it enough to draw students back to the district? Photo: Leadville Today

 Of course not everybody saw it as quite the “rebuilding-the-district-from-the-ground-up” spin some school administrators were pitching, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for families choosing to keep their children – and the money that comes with that choice – right here in Leadville.

That’s right, ultimately, it does come down to money.  So how much money will the local school district lose due to #SchoolChoice in 2017/18? Leadville Today was finally able to calculate that number now that the district released its “FINAL REVISED BUDGET” last Friday, Jan. 19. This report lists the per pupil dollar amount that the district will receive (or lose!) for each pupil from the state.  So multiplying that dollar amount against the out-of-district- student numbers that Leadville Today gathered in recent months and, well, you’d better sit down for this one: $1,266,212.00.

 That’s one-million, two hundred sixty-six thousand, two hundred and twelve dollars. To put it another way, it’s in excess of 10% of the district’s newly revised “Total General Fund” budget (at least as of last Friday, Jan. 19). The numbers included in the packet are dizzying, with many pages presented in such “fine print” that they are illegible. In fact, some in the FINAL REVISED BUDGET even contradict the “official” numbers given to Leadville Today upon completion of the official student count numbers at the end of last October 2017.

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Phone-free with hands in the air, these Leadville students at a Lake County Intermediate School assembly in 2017 are engaged and ready to learn. Photo: Leadville Today/Brennan Ruegg.

But for the record, here are the official Student Count numbers, broken down by grade as released by Kate Bartlett, the LCSD’s Chief Financial Officer on October 1, 2017.

  • Preschool – 98 students
  • Kindergarten – 70 students
  • 1st grade – 67 students
  • 2nd grade – 76 students
  • 3rd grade – 72 students
  • 4th grade – 79 students
  • 5th grade – 74 students
  • 6th grade – 81 students
  • 7th grade – 78 students
  • 8th grade – 68 students
  • 9th grade – 83 students
  • 10th grade – 83 students
  • 11th grade – 70 students
  • 12th grade – 86 students
  • ASCENT/5th year senior – 4 students

Simply put, the 2018 numbers reflect a demographic shift for families with school-aged children, most likely a combination of Leadville’s next generation which has seen enthusiastic grown among young, Native-Leadville families in the last decade, as well as the newbies who have moved to Lake County with their children.

With that in mind, the official Student Count numbers for kids leaving the district have also increased. And that’s how LT got to the dollar amount. After months of research, and data extraction from educators and administrators it comes down to basic math. Take the number of students that choose an option other than the LCSD, multiple that by the dollar amount allocated per student ($8,014) and that gives you the amount of money Lake County loses every year due to student retention issues.

Now some school administrators and board members will advocate that “it’s so much more complicated than that,” yet they never able to provide answers as to how much money is leaving the LCSD every year.  In the next part of this series, LT will break down how it came to that $1,266,212.00 dollar amount after data collected from neighboring districts and other school choice options. If the district can provide a simple, logical alternative, LT and its readers are open to that insight. At present there is seemingly no genuine effort in place to bring these students back, a common statement LT heard from most parents with out-of-district students.

Career Fair_2017_2A

The 19th Annual Career Fair was held at the Lake County High School gymnasium on Wednesday, allowing students to speak directly to professionals in their field of interest. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

In fact, in the recently released FINAL REVISED BUDGET, LT was unable to find any program that outlined a strategy for bringing these students – most some of the best and brightest from Lake County – back into their classroom. While there is plenty of data supporting the time and resources necessary to attain a $30,000 grant here and a $40,000 grant there, the report is remiss in establishing a process to bring $1,266,212.00 back into their budget, Just think about what THAT could do for staff and teacher salaries?!

Looking to get involved? You’re in luck! Tonight, Tuesday, January 23, The Lake County School District Board of Directors is holding a “Special Meeting and Work Session” at 6:30 p.m. at the district admin office at 107 Spruce Street.  Among the agenda items up for  discussion will be the “FINAL REVISED BUDGET” 2017/18 budget. Find out what they plan on spending their money on; that is if you can read the fine print. Readers can access that information: HERE.

Coming up in Part II of Leadville Today’s National School Choice Week series, LT explores other local options. Stay tuned to find out how you can still #KeepItLocal while exercising your right to choose the best education option for your child. Then finally in Part III, LT provides the hard cold numbers of student who leave Lake County every day for classrooms in Buena Vista, Summit and Eagle Counties.

Of course, LT welcomes your feedback, which you can do privately via email at info@leadvilletoday.com or join the conversation on LT’s social media platforms.

Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com.

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