As the RE-2 School District continues to lose students compounded by a $5.2 million loss in state budget cuts, Superintendent Jed Bowman, Ph.D., asked for help.
“As a school district, we're at a crossroads. We've seen declining enrollment and declining revenue for four solid years,” he said. “One or the other alone is a big problem but the two together is almost insurmountable.”
In a luncheon meeting with members of the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce Oct. 16, Bowman laid it on the line. “I want us to have the best school system we can afford,” he said. “I hate to put that caveat on it but it's the truth; there's a finite pot of money. Let's see what ideas you have about how to make this a better place.”
Listing the school's accomplishments, Bowman changed to an upbeat note. “I'm very proud of our system, our staff and our students,” he said, offering up a list of bragging points:
●Summit Elementary School students qualified for the nationals in Destination Imagination
●The high school's forensic team qualified for nationals 24 years in a row
●The high school marching band has taken third in the state for the past three years
●The high-school softball team won the league championship
●The football team is 5-2
●The middle school boys' basketball and girls' volleyball teams were league champions this year.
Bowman's presentation included a report from the community task force which met regularly over the past year. The force recommended that the district:
●Develop a marketing plan.
● Assess student recruitment and retention. “One of the things that is clear is that our district undersells our value,” Bowman said. “We need to do a better job of marketing what we do. We think we do okay on that but we need to do a lot better.”
●Hire a marketing person\grant writer. “There are a lot of grants available that we're not taking advantage of,” he said. “It looks favorable that we're going to be able to hire somebody for two years.”
●Target stakeholders in the community, parents, the business community and non-students. “The last demographics show that 60 percent of people in Teller County are over the age of 60,” Bowman said.
●Highlight the fact that, in the last several years, eight students won appointments to the Air Force Academy. “We have many kids who go on to elite colleges,” he said. “We hear all kind of disparaging comments in the community. But if you want to success and go to the top schools, you can and we'll help people do that.”
● Focus on the curriculum. “We are large enough to offer comprehensive programming but as we whittle away at it it's hard to maintain it,” he said.
● Look on the bright side. “We haven't made a single cut in the arts, the performing arts and physical education,” he said. “We haven't done any of that and yet we had to cut $5.2 million.”
Along with the report, the task force recommended implementing or expanding: ●Before and after-school education
●Foster experiential learning, possibly through the Chevron program
●Increase technology, with computers, in the classrooms
●Offer auxiliary experiences as a recruitment tool for employees such as dual-credit courses. “We're #10 in compensation for the staff in comparable school districts,” he said.
●Hire a second school resource officer, a result of a partnership with the city of Woodland Park
●Actively recruit teachers
●Provide opportunities for professional development
●Encourage loyalty. “Occasionally you'll hear stuff come out of employees' mouths that aren't good about our district; that's not good, not healthy,” he said. “I was always taught you don't bite the hand that feeds you. At the same time you don't oppress or suppress people. But the more that gets out t the parents the worse it is for all of us to overcome that.”
●Look at ways to raise revenue other than a tax increase. “We went for a mill-levy increase three years ago and the community said no, two to one,” he said. “The task force didn't feel like a mill levy was in their purview of going forward.”
Bowman brought his presentation down to a personal level. “I have four children and they're all in the school system,” he said. “It would be personal for me anyway but when it's my children…”
As a wrap-up Bowman encouraged the group to contact him with ideas.