One D51 school fights against budget cuts, harsh economy for students

By: Taylor Temby Email
By: Taylor Temby Email

Schools in the Grand Valley are feeling the stresses of budget cuts. Whether it's a cut in copies or letting staff members go, it seems everyone is being affected in some way or another. Schools are working around these budget cuts, but one school is fighting against even greater challenges.

Rocky Mountain Elementary School has been hurt by cuts, but the down economy is affecting an especially large number of its families. It's hard to believe but this year the school has had to enroll or withdraw a student 400 times because of families moving in and out of the boundaries. The school is working to creatively use its resources for students and wants to make sure there are no barriers impacting their goals in the classroom.

There are still some nerves, but nothing quite compares to second year teacher Shawn Wilson's anxiety going into last summer.

"I don't' think I'm as nervous as I was last year," Wilson said. "[Last year] I remember going in [Principal Patti Virden's] office and saying, 'You know, I know I'm a first year teacher. Am I going to be cut?'"

His worries were justified. Like others in School District 51, Rocky Mountain Elementary has had to make adjustments due to budget cuts.

"The impact has been kind of felt throughout our system," Rocky Mountain Elementary principal Patti Virden said.

Just this year alone, four staff members have lost their jobs due to a lack of funds and grants. The school wants as much growth in its students as possible in a short time, which means the more staff the better.

Virden still doesn't know the fate of four to six jobs that could still be cut before next school year.

"We have seen over time, cuts in different things like our general budget," she said.

That means cuts in copies, field trip funds and supplies. Rocky Mountain has applied for grants to make up for some of the losses.

"The funding sources for these grants are sometimes on the chopping block as well at the state level and the federal level," Virden said.

But that money isn't always a for-sure thing. Other schools have had to cope with budget losses like Rocky Mountain, but few must also battle against the extreme economic odds many of its students face.

"This year we have the highest free and reduced lunch rate that we've ever had. We're at 85 percent, and most of those qualify for free lunch," Virden said.

The economy has also affected many students' home lives.

"What happens to those kids whose parents can't find employment, it's a single parent?" mother Darlene Dexter asked. Dexter has one student at Rocky Mountain Elementary, and a middle schooler who also went through the school.

"We have families that are moving because they can't find jobs from where they were and they're staying with grandparents and then they might leave," Virden said.

Movement has caused RME to make 400 enrollments and withdrawals in the last year alone, impacting many of the school's five hundred students.

"They kind of have to start back and start all over," Wilson said of those students.

In addition to funding cuts, there are other factors working against RME. It doesn't have a huge percentage of students who are proficient in certain subjects, but let it be known: this school will not go down without a fight.

"[A teacher's] job doesn't stop once they leave the school," Dexter said.

It's the effort teachers and staff make that the public doesn't always see. Teachers come in early and thanks to grant money, can stay late to help tutor kids who need a boost.

"We provide some after school academics for an hour for 40-ish kids in reading and math," Virden said.

Teachers also pull out their own wallets when school supplies runs out.

"We use our own money a lot of the time. Sometimes you can get reimbursed, sometimes you don't," Wilson said.

RME strives to provide its students with every opportunity it can without a budget. For instance, this year the computer lab instructor started teaching art.

"Sometimes that's a gift that children have that we don't see," Virden said of giving students the chance to try art.

While there are no funds for it, the instructor saves scraps and wanders through yard sales to pick up anything her students might be able to use.

"I think Rocky Mountain Elementary does a good job right now with their education, the great teachers that they have. They push them to be the best students they can be," Dexter said.

Despite the odds against them, RME's hard work appears to be paying off. At the rate things are going now, the school expects more students will become proficient in their schooling. It's the will of the teachers and staff to not let these kids fail that has given them so much success.

"I think that's what keeps me going as a teacher and waking up at five in the morning to get to work," Wilson said.

As Rocky Mountain Elementary prepares for even more budget cuts and a lingering tough economy, it's students will not fail.

"[The effort is] for those kids that you can change," Wilson said.

Wilson is also one of many participating in an after school basketball program for students. Teachers at RME have been donating their time to give kids an extra-curricular activity, and some even stay later to help tutor students who may be struggling. According to Virden, some teachers even come in on weekends to play basketball and study.

The PTA at Rocky Mountain has also done a number of fundraisers to help accommodate budget problems. It recently held a walk-a-thon that raised $3,000 that can be used for field trips, playground equipment and field day.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Chris Location: Grand Junction on May 10, 2012 at 04:19 PM
    Anonymous What people fail to understand is that D51 is doing a fabulous job educating our young people on the budget they receive. They are one of the lowest funded in the state and Colorado is the 49th funded in the nation. So our funding is the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. As for giving the College money, our students use those fields free of charge. As for the JUCO field, if I recall, The Grand Junction Rockies are buying our local baseball teams new uniforms. In my opinion, it all works out in the wash.
    • reply
      by Tina on May 11, 2012 at 08:52 AM in reply to Chris
      Chris, I agree. Something else people need to realize is that state taxes are portioned out by population. This means anything the state takes as an education tax, is spent on the front range long before it is ever seen here. We have teachers that do an amazing job with what they are given. We need to support them, and I am not talking financially. The district has done a very poor job of explaining things to the general population. For instance, the bond issue. The majority of our community would only be impacted by $10 to $20 per month and the money WOULD STAY IN MESA COUNTY. However, most people didn't realize this. I know my neighbors thought their property taxes would almost double. We need to communicate better.
  • by SAM Location: Grand Junction on May 10, 2012 at 07:27 AM
    Public schools are bureaucracies, they are totally tax supported. The bureaucrats have spent all of the money they take in taxation from the people and have borrowed trillions more to keep spending. Who is going to pay for this? The tax payers are going to pay because the bureaucrats do not contribute to the cost they just take and spend. It is time for people to use their common sense and realize that they can no longer continue having children that they can not financially afford because the government can no longer support these children. If people are not employeed they can pay no taxation.
  • by Anonymous on May 9, 2012 at 08:44 PM
    Cry me a river. Close the school and send the spawn elsewhere. Dont even blame the taxpayers blame d51. 1 million to Mesa State a few years ago for sports. More recent? A large contribution for the JUCO field.
  • by unknown Location: gj on May 9, 2012 at 07:54 PM
    How about instead of picking up trash for free in the spring our wonderful city of GJ give those funds to the schools. I can't understand why people are so afriad of new taxes, FOUR DAY SCHOOL WEEKS, or anything else for that matter that would benihit the schools system. We only have one chance to educate our kids, so mabye we shuold all wake up and make sacrifices so that we won't be speaking Chineese in the future.
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