In the next two weeks, the Ouray School Board will be making a critical decision that I believe will be a real “game changer” in this community. The 2017–18 school budget will have ramifications for jobs, curriculum quality and the presence or absence of financial reserves. The School Board is in a thankless position and nobody need envy the responsibility it holds in making this decision.
The School Board budget, however, is not the only key decision we face as a community as it pertains to our school. The other is the prospect of passing an MLO (mil levy override) in November to properly fund the school given the untenable budgetary cuts handed down by state laws. These are independent decisions, but they are tightly coupled.
If the Board chooses to maintain reserve funds for a “rainy day” and not fully fund the school in 2017–18, the loss of jobs and key educators, as well as the decline in curriculum quality, will continue to have an adverse affect on school morale. This loss of morale will play a key role in the prospect of passing the MLO in November, which I believe is critical to this community’s economic health and well-being. Now is the time to take a risk and dip into reserve funds. This is a rainy day in Ouray. We need to galvanize this community and raise awareness that failing to fully fund the school leads us down a slippery slope.
If we fail to maintain a high-quality school, it won’t equate only to job loss for educators. Families will leave. Other families will fail to consider Ouray as a suitable destination. The economic impact alone will be profound. There is no greater economic driver to a community than its full-time residents. Never mind the fabric of the community and how it marries to EMS, Fire, Mountain Rescue and the host of volunteer-driven entities that all survive based on full-time residents and their willingness to contribute to the well-being of this community.
If the school weakens, the town will surely erode. In time, it will morph into a resort community complete with an itinerant population, low-paying jobs and a dearth of key services. Let’s not let that happen.
The school is the economic lifeblood of Ouray. If we lose the excellence we have worked so hard to achieve, we also will lose some of the component parts that comprise that excellence – thoughtful, involved and engaged community members and educators. Fully fund the school for 2017–18. Take the risk. Restore morale and rally this community to pass the MLO in November. Every single dollar of the MLO stays right here in Ouray. It is a capital investment in our future as well as our present.
Failure to pass the MLO will put us on a precipitous slide. One that, I fear, will have long-term ramifications for Ouray. Change is the only constant. Be an architect of change, not a victim of it.