With summer vacation in full swing, the halls at Mesa County schools have stayed relatively empty, but a school planning group says that won't be the case this fall, as most of them will be too full. The group says the overcrowding has become such a problem, that it might be time for Mesa County residents to pay for more schools.
The Long Range Planning Committee is a group of citizens, school officials, and city officials who report to the school board on issues of growth, and make recommendations on how the district can adapt to it.
Cathy Story has served on the Long Range Planning Committee since 2004. In that time, she says the number of new students moving into the area has skyrocketed, and Mesa County schools are having a tough time keeping up.
"We have a thousand more students than we have seats available for them in the schools where they live," said Story.
She says even with six new schools being built already this decade, the growth is still too much.
"Rimrock Elementary has opened at capacity and now is beyond its capacity," said Story.
Parents of School District 51 students say growing enrollment is a growing concern for them.
"The larger the class sizes are, the less attention each child gets," said parent Jane Schroeder. "It's not good."
According to the school district's latest figures, over the next five years enrollment is expected to increase by nearly 2,000 students. In the next ten years, that number jumps up to 5,000. The Long Range Planning Committee says the time to act is now.
"We'd love not to ask you for a lot more money," said Story. "The truth is, we have to address it now because it's not going away."
The Committee has recommended the school board place either a $185 million or $211 million bond on this year's ballot.
"We really want them to take a close look at two high schools," said Story.
With construction costs going up one percent each month, they say the sooner the schools are built, the better and cheaper it will be. Parents agree.
"It's a minimal expense," said Schroeder. "It's for our children."
School Board members say they take the recommendations of the committee very seriously. They say they're weighing their options and have to take things like the economy and the severance tax issue into account before they make a decision.
They will vote whether or not to put a school bond issue on the ballot during their meeting on August 19th.
School District 51 is asking for public input on the matter. You can send your comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call the communications office at (970) 254-5112.