PAGE is Turning a New Leaf in Grand County District Schools
by Annabelle Numaguchi
In response to the dire financial crisis in the Grand County School District, a diverse group of Moab residents have formed Parent Advocates for Grand Education (PAGE). Consisting of parents, teachers and community members from various sectors, the group “is committed to ensuring quality public schools for all Grand County children.” Recognizing the detrimental impact the dismantling of the current system would have on the 1500 students, and ultimately the community at large, PAGE members are unified in securing long-term funding for the district, as well as holding both the district and the community responsible for the quality of Grand County schools.
Grand County School District found itself in a calamitous situation last fall, when they discovered upon the death of the business manager that school operations were dependent on the misallocation of funds. This situation necessitated drastic measures. These included laying off a third of the faculty and cutting important programs, such as Credit Recovery, which granted 43 students out of the 110 high school seniors to graduate on time last year.
Realizing that private donations and the sale of surplus school properties could only act as temporary “band-aids,” Connie Wilson, mother of both a current and graduated student, organized other concerned parents into a working committee to find a real solution, resulting in the conception of PAGE in January. The group now consists of 75 active members and 170 Facebook fans, evidence that many Moab residents recognize the severity of this community crisis.
Teachers and children in the system are directly affected by this situation, but the web effect of interconnectedness means that everyone in the community will eventually be touched if the schools fail. As Rachel Moody, Principal Broker for Real Estate Company of Moab, explains, “For families relocating, education is always of the utmost importance, and the first question that is asked is ‘How are your schools?’ Without strong schools, recruiting new professionals, engineers, doctors, business owners, will continue to become harder and harder.”
Many professionals feel like they have made sacrifices in salary and career opportunities to enjoy the lifestyle and natural beauty Moab offers, but few are willing to sacrifice their children’s education and future. Faced with the choice of relocating or helping the school district, members of PAGE are volunteering skills, time and money to find a realistic and on-going solution to the district’s financial crisis.
As part of the immediate mission to pass a much-needed leeway, the only possible source for on-going funding for teacher salaries and programs, PAGE is acting as a “watchdog” to the Grand County School Board (GCSB), which consists of five elected officials. Although the events leading to the current crisis originated under the supervision of the previous superintendent and board, the current board bears the responsibility of dealing with it. The community lost a certain amount of faith in the district administration because the misappropriation was not discovered and rectified earlier.
Members of PAGE empathize with this feeling of discontent, but also understand that throwing out the current board and replacing them would be counterproductive, and maybe impossible, considering how few members of the community run for those seats. The last three members elected, Jim Webster, Deb Hren and Ron Olsen, ran unopposed. Currently, there are two seats open for November’s election. As Dr. Gen Numaguchi, father of two, puts it, “Every time I hear someone complain about the board, I let them know that they can either a) run for a position, b) attend the public meetings, or c) get involved with PAGE. These are our schools, and we need to step up and help out.”
Concrete evidence exists that PAGE is playing an important role by lobbying the School Board for improvements in the passing of House Bill 295, allowing our school district two more years of siphoning funds not normally designated for operations. Although this is not a permanent solution, it will keep the schools from being dismantled while one is found. PAGE lobbied Superintendent Margaret Hopkin and GCSB to actively support this bill, granting them political leverage while bargaining with the state. The bill passed at the eleventh hour before the close of the State Legislature, also thanks to PAGE, whose members bombarded the Senate with phone calls and emails, encouraging them to push through the bill.
This bill gives Grand County some breathing room, but it does not fix the underlying problem, which is on-going funding. Deirdre Keating, who lobbied the state, explains, “I’m thrilled that our legislature gave us a safety net, but it’s not a solution. Our community still needs to find a reliable and legal way to avoid layoffs and keep class sizes down. I don’t see any permanent solution other than a tax leeway.” Taking advantage of this bill comes at a price. As a result of a separate bill (HB 4), our district will have to pay the state $48,000 annually until the community votes in the leeway.
PAGE also plans to serve a fact-checking role for Moab. Rumors abound in any small community, many of which are false. PAGE double checks its facts with school officials, state representatives and community members before updating its brochures and website. District “Catch Up” meetings are summarized in video and available on “YouTube”; nonetheless, many community members are not keeping up with these fast developments. In an attempt to strengthen the bond between the schools and the community, PAGE will disseminate information through various means, including booths at various events, advertising in the Times Independent and Advertiser and hosting house parties.
Most of the organizing of these activities takes place at the open meeting held on Mondays, from 7:00-8:30 p.m., at the MARC kitchen. PAGE invites everyone to join because this is a community issue. As Wilson puts it, “We can turn crisis into opportunity. This is our chance, as a community, to ensure we provide quality education to our future generation, and we need to do it together.”
Want to get involved? Check out PAGE at www.pagemoab.com or on Facebook.