Honor Rolled

Parents in Boulder say their school-board members lied to them.

Although enrollment at Majestic Heights has fallen from 163 students in 1995 to 102 today, and at Martin Park it has dropped from 496 students in 1995 to 137, school-district figures also show that attendance at Aurora 7 is the highest it's been in five years, rising from 293 students in 1995 to 338 this year. Part of that boost comes from students who are bused in from Superior; still, 75 percent of the students live in the Aurora 7 neighborhood.

Closing Majestic Heights also means that students will have to cross busy Table Mesa Drive to get to Martin Park, a fact that has forced the city to consider building an underpass, which could cost more than $1 million, according to Mock. "The school board didn't come to the city at all," Mock says, adding that his letter was answered with "no more than a polite thank-you from Stan Garnett.

"The school board did a terrible job of public process two years ago, and they've done a terrible job again. My experience is that if you give people enough time to look at problems, they'll come up with some pretty imaginative solutions. School-board members can't continue to go into issues like this thinking they're the experts. That attitude just doesn't work in Boulder."

School's out: Majestic Heights Elementary.
Previous page: Snowed day: Janis Sherwood, with  her children Sawyer (left) and Amanda, says the school board misled parents.
David Rehor
School's out: Majestic Heights Elementary.

Previous page: Snowed day: Janis Sherwood, with her children Sawyer (left) and Amanda, says the school board misled parents.

Many parents couldn't agree more. Majestic Heights parent Sherwood is leading a drive to unseat the entire school board, except Okolowicz. She and more than one hundred other angry parents are trying to collect the 16,000 signatures needed to trigger a special recall election, which could be held in early June.

Right now they can only try to oust three -- Garnett, Phillips and Jean Bonelli -- because boardmembers have to be in office at least six months before they can be recalled, but they'll begin circulating recall petitions for the others -- Angelika Schroeder, Teresa Steele-Sackschewsky and Bill de la Cruz -- in May, after the grace period expires.

Other parents, like Majestic Heights's Donna Schaefer, were so angered by the decision that they are enrolling their kids in schools across town to make a statement to the school board. Even though most of Boulder's growth is concentrated in the north end of town, where finding a small school will be difficult, Schaefer felt she needed to move.

"It was a pure emotional reaction to being told what to do," she says. "The school board expected 300 to 400 parents to obediently march over and enroll their kids in Martin Park, but they've only gotten about 120 parents to do that. That should tell them something. It says the parents are pissed. I don't know where everyone is going, but several parents I know have enrolled their kids in other Boulder schools."

BVSD spokeswoman Barbara Taylor couldn't confirm that number; she says the district doesn't know how many students have enrolled in Martin Park, because it hasn't finished making placement assignments for next school year.

Some school-district employees and many parents believe that part of the reason for consolidation is that the board felt obligated to do something for Southern Hills Middle School, which has been sharing its campus with Summit, a popular charter middle school, for four years. The staff and parents at both schools have put a lot of pressure on the board to find Summit a home of its own, and on February 24, less than a month after approving the consolidation plan, the board voted to move students from Summit to Majestic Heights. Garnett insists that the two issues are entirely separate, however. "To suggest that there was some secret plan is completely incorrect and unrealistic," he says. "The space problem at Southern Hills is a big problem, though. Kids at both schools have a hard time accessing the gym and library because of having to share space. There are portables everywhere."

Julie Phillips, the boardmember who proposed the moratorium, says the choice to close the schools wasn't an easy one to make, but that it had to be done.

"What propelled us into the South Boulder consolidation was when our staff determined that they were expecting only 88 students to enroll in the Majestic Heights neighborhood school next year. We just couldn't justify putting so many resources into such a small school," she says, adding that she thought the $10.6 million referendum that voters passed in 1998 would be enough to prevent the district from having to close schools until 2001 -- or at least until the district gets more money from the state.

In November, she hopes voters will approve a ballot initiative she's been working on that would mandate inflationary increases in state funding for education plus an additional percentage point every year for ten years. The initiative would create a state education fund that would either draw money from the state's annual budget surplus, increase the state sales tax by half a cent or restore a quarter-percent state income tax. If it makes it onto the ballot, the plan could generate up to $350 million more each year for Colorado schools.

"When we have a budget crisis, we have no cushion, no reserve," she says. "We're like a family living on the edge, spending everything we have and not saving anything, and then the unexpected happens, like someone in the family loses their job. I hope my initiative passes in the fall so that we never have to do this again."

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