School board avoided tough decisions

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By Greg Romberg

When members of Congress and Pentagon leaders realized we needed to close military bases around the country and find ways to use others better, they knew they would face impossible political dilemmas. Communities around the country would fight to keep their bases and missions. What politician with an ounce of self-preservation instinct would vote to close a base in his or her own district?

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission, or BRAC, was established to handle the job. Under the BRAC process, Congress delegated the job of studying this issue and making a comprehensive recommendation to a separate commission. Congress was limited to a yes or no vote on the entire list. There was no ability to amend the list, and individual members of Congress could vote to approve the list, even if it contained a facility in their districts, and have necessary cover to face hometown interests. Bases were closed all over the country. In Colorado, both Lowry Air Force Base and the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center were closed.

Maybe the Jefferson County Board of Education needs a BRAC process of its own!

After months of analysis, thousands of hours of work and a comprehensive list of recommendations to better use facilities around Jefferson County, the board made the bold decision to close one school.

The process had a logical and predictable conclusion. Every community that had a school on the list mobilized to save its school. The board was overwhelmed by stories of how people chose to live in neighborhoods because of their schools, anecdotes about how life wouldn’t be the same if kids had to go other places, and that the board owed residents of the area the schools they loved. The whole event had a huge economic development benefit for area T-shirt shops as groups dressed in matching shirts for solidarity and to show their numbers.

When it was all said and done, the only school the board voted to close was Russell Elementary School, which sits across the street from the Costco in Arvada and has commercial real estate value coveted by developers.

There is no question that some school facilities around this country are very underutilized. There were schools on the list recommended for closure that had less than 50 percent utilization. A recommendation to move sixth-graders from elementary school to middle school that would have resulted in more efficient use of our school facilities was dropped.

It’s tough to look at real people who make emotional pleas to save a school and vote to disappoint them. Maybe next time the school board should set up something like BRAC, where at the end of the day it has to make an all or nothing decision.

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Jefferson County commissioners made a great decision when they quickly named Ralph Schell to fill the vacant county administrator’s slot. Ralph distinguished himself running the county’s open space program and will bring much needed stability as the county administrator.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.