Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 is asking voters to approve a mill levy for approximately $21 million half the cost of a new high school, with the rest funded by a BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant. Its a big request, and its by far the best deal local taxpayers can ever hope to make.
The educational case is compelling. The deficiencies of the current building make teaching and learning difficult in many ways. Its absolutely true that a new building wont guarantee higher test scores or, more to the point, better student achievement. But its also true that students and teachers cannot do their best work in a building that doesnt have modern equipment, adequate safety features, or even the means to keep classroom temperatures above 60 in the winter and below 80 in the late spring and early fall. Classroom space is reduced because teaching materials must be stored in plastic totes stacked against the wall. One teacher must set up science equipment in a room without enough desk space for all the students enrolled in the class, and then remove it after each class period. Some classrooms have only two electrical outlets, and 50 percent have no windows.
A modern facility with well-designed learning spaces, up-to-date technology and close attention to safety concerns, and without all the drawbacks of the current building, can only help.
The financial case is compelling as well. Grant funding for more than half the cost of the project means the community can provide its students with a better facility at a lower cost to local taxpayers.
The third persuasive point involves the school districts role in economic development. Poor schools deter businesses from locating here, and they also hamper existing businesses ability to attract top employees, who logically want top schools for their children. Educational achievement is the goal, but attractive facilities equipped with modern technology are a visible sign of a communitys commitment to its children. The Montezuma Community Economic Development Association and the Cortez Chamber of Commerce both have endorsed 3B, the MCHS-bond ballot issue. Thats a powerful statement of support by the local business community.
The building project would infuse $42 million into the local economy, and $22.7 million of it would come from elsewhere. The project would involve an estimated 413 construction jobs and support an additional 126 indirect jobs. Thats a huge impact, estimated at approximately $63 million by the Region 9 Economic Development District.
There will never be a less expensive way to build the high school the Re-1 school district needs. Right now, construction costs and bond rates are low. The bottom line, though, is that the BEST grant will pay for more than half of the project this year only. Once this opportunity passes, the cost to Re-1 taxpayers skyrockets while the need persists. No second chance will be offered.
The Journal urges all voters to attend a tour of the high school, because in this case, seeing is believing. (Public tours will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning Sept. 4, at 5:30 p.m., meeting at the main MCHS entrance.) The physical evidence that Montezuma-Cortez High School is a substandard facility is irrefutable, and when the BEST grant is factored in, renovating it would cost taxpayers millions more than replacing it.
One way or the other, the district needs to spend millions just to bring the high school up to current standards; turning down a $22.7 million dollar grant to help do it is just bad business.
Editors note: Journal publisher Suzy Meyer is part of the Cortez 21st Century High School Committee promoting the passage of ballot question 3B.