Another Jeffco parent (this one is a Ph.D.) upset about the bad information regarding the false 15,000 open seats wrote the following for us:
15,000 Empty Seats?
The argument goes like this:
- Jefferson County has 15,000 empty classroom seats.
- Thus, Jefferson County has no more need of classroom seats.
- Therefore, one should vote against any tax increase that would build more classroom seats. At first glance the argument appears persuasive, but if we dig deeper we can see the fallacy. Before we do this, though, let’s see if we can agree on some values:
(a) Given a choice, schools in neighborhoods are important.
(b) There should be school choice options; e.g. students should be able to attend, not just their home school, but other schools within the district.
(c) We want our schools to be safe and up to date.
(d) We want the strongest and best teachers possible for our schools. I believe that these values (and we might find others) are shared by everyone.
Now, about that argument…
- We should first clarify the number of open seats: based on figures from the school district, the figure should be 12,500—this allows a 5% margin for classrooms to be taken out of use for repairs and for unanticipated students to have seats.
- We might also remove from consideration the option schools—they are important, but in a somewhat separate category; the number of open seats here is, rounding down, 2,500.
- So, for the purposes of argument, let’s say that Jefferson county has 10,000 open classroom seats; if that is the case, then the argument we sketched at the outset continues to look strong.
- However, the 10,000 empty seats are not spread evenly across grade levels or across schools (this is a hidden assumption of the argument we are considering); instead, we find that elementary and k-8 schools are in need of about 350 seats (rounding down), while there are 5500 (rounding up) seats open in middle schools and 4,500 (rounding down) seats available in high schools.
- Two things the argument sketched earlier does not consider is why there are the open seats, where they are, and also what the best way to use those seats would be. These are both important.
- Overall, there has been and is a continued trend toward older residents of Jefferson County —presumably without school age children, this is important, but not the whole story. Many families put off having children during the great recession, which is one reason we are seeing an increase in students in the lower grades (and a dip in the number of students in middle and high school); likewise, millennials are putting off marriage and/or children until they are older, though they are expected to eventually have children. In addition, the population of school age children has been shifting within the county (e.g. more school age children in Candelas, and fewer in other areas) and there is also an effort to build infrastructure that will attract younger people to the county (for example, the commuter rail line within Arvada and the new housing developments). All in all, then, while there is currently a dip in the number of students attending middle school and high school, it is not certain that this dip will continue, or continue to the same degree. Thus, when planning for school seats we have to look not just at the present, but at the future—it takes time to build new schools and to update older ones.
- But, to return to the original argument—what to do about all of those open seats? First, we have to also recognize that even within categories, such as high schools, where there are open seats, these are not spread evenly across the high schools: Ralston Valley, for example is full, while Arvada has, if the figure is correct, 1,000 open seats (or if not that many, let’s imagine some significant number). If we reject the bond to pay for new schools, what option is left? We could, for example, remove choice within the district and force students to attend their home schools—we could even take this further and assign students to schools to fill them to capacity. But, doing this would violate the basic values we agreed upon earlier—no more school choice within the district and also forced attendance at schools. Without another proposed solution, this is what the original argument seems to imply.
- The better option, one that holds true to our agreed values, would be to pass a bond that would allow for the following:
(a) Better utilize the open seats in middle schools by shifting 6th graders to middle schools that are not already k-8 (this is a small number of schools within the district).
(b) Making repairs and additions to schools (e.g. Arvada High School) to make those schools more attractive choice options.
(c) Build schools in areas to which the school age population is shifting (e.g. Candelas).
(d) Build planned additions to schools in areas with large school age populations, but whose facilities are too small currently for the number of students in the neighborhood.
(e) Make general repairs and improvements to all schools (security systems, updated electronic infrastructure, and so on).
(f) Add new programs that involve infrastructure expense; for example, things like automotive repair, plumbing, electrical—programs that create trained and skilled workers.
A bond would have increased our individual tax bills by a relatively small amount and we should recognize that that is a burden for those on fixed incomes and others still recovering from the recession, but balance that against the gain in property values from better schools and also the increase in the overall common good of a more educated population.
From SJK – We know the individual posting the information is a parent at a charter school and we know that person volunteers for Americans for Prosperity. Because this individual supports choice (most of us do), one would think that taking choices away from other students would be something they recognize as a bad thing. Voters overwhelmingly kicked these kinds of politics to the curb in 2015, 65% of us