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School district hosts annual legislative visit

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Photo by Pat Sunderland Superintendent Caryn Gibson shared the successes and challenges of Delta County Joint School District #50 during a legislative visit to the Technical College of the Rockies.

State representatives and senators visiting Delta recently were interested in hearing how Delta County Joint School District #50 is spending the one-time funds authorized by the Colorado State Legislature last spring.

The funds were included in SB17-267, the bill titled "Sustainability of Rural Colorado" that preserved the hospital provider fee. One section of the bill required that $30 million in retail marijuana sales tax revenue be appropriated to education, and specifically to rural school districts on a per-pupil basis.

As a result, the local school district received just over $819,000. During a legislative visit hosted by the school district, superintendent Caryn Gibson said the funds will be used to purchase three new route buses. The school district is also moving toward providing Chromebooks for all high school students, and $229,000 was set aside for capital projects. Because funds were allocated on a per-pupil basis, the district shared funds with preschoolers and Vision Charter Academy.

The legislative visit was held at the Technical College of the Rockies. Visiting legislators included Yeulin Willett, state representative, House District 54; Dan Thurlow, state representative, House District 55; Millie Hamner, state representative, House District 61; and state Senator Kerry Donovan. Delta County Commissioners Mark Roeber and Don Suppes and representatives from Club 20, Region 10, City of Delta and Town of Cedaredge were also in attendance, making the third annual legislative visit the biggest yet.

"We're here because we care about you," said Rep. Hamner. "Just let us know what you need -- this team of legislators here works well together."

The legislators participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in celebration of the tech college's new name.

They also heard an overview of the entire school district, which encompasses 1,157 square miles and includes 24 sites including schools, bus barns and other facilities. Superintendent Caryn Gibson said enrollment is up by 58 students, September to September, but the number of funded students will drop because of five-year averaging. She reported an increase in the number of students receiving free lunches and in the number of students with special needs. The school district's reliance on state funding has been on the increase and is now estimated at 75 percent of district revenues.

Delta County shares a statewide concern about teacher recruitment, prompting school board member Jan Tuin -- a retired educator -- to urge caution with legislative restructuring of PERA, the state retirement system. Tuin said PERA is a powerful tool for teacher recruitment.

He joined district leadership in applauding legislators for a program that allows retired teachers to return to the classroom without impacting their benefits. That program enabled the district to hire a retired math teacher to fill a vacancy that cropped up just days before the start of school.

Commissioner Suppes praised the school district for its fiscal responsibility. "In the face of economic adversity over the past six years, the district has done an amazing job of keeping the dollars where they need to be and keeping us on the forefront of education. I want you guys to be aware of that."

Senator Donovan agreed. "I'm impressed time after time to see how you tighten the belt in the right places and keep the priorities on the students. You guys spend the money on the kids. I brag about the fact you don't have matching chairs, because that means you're spending money on education not on appearance."

The legislators also praised the school district for embracing technical and career education.

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