The Colorado Department of Education awarded the Elizabeth School District a Building Excellent Schools Today Grant for $335,353 to assist with the cost of replacing the roof at Singing Hills Elementary School. The award was announced on June 3, and …
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The Colorado Department of Education awarded the Elizabeth School District a Building Excellent Schools Today Grant for $335,353 to assist with the cost of replacing the roof at Singing Hills Elementary School. The award was announced on June 3, and was one of 26 BEST Grant applications recommended to the State Board of Education for approval by the CDE.
The Elizabeth School District has set aside $410,243 of matching funds for the Singing Hills roof project. Bids for the new roof at the school will be accepted over the winter and the roof is expected to be replaced in time for the start of the 2016-17 school year.
Though pleased with the award, Douglass Bissonette, superintendent of the Elizabeth School District, was bothered by the absence of another project from the CDE's recommendation list: the district's request for funds to replace the roof at Elizabeth High School, the larger of the two projects and the one with the most urgency for the district.
“In my view, it's a bittersweet pill. The sweet part is that we have some additional money to replace the roof at Singing Hills. The bitter part is not that we didn't get it,” said Bissonette. “It's why we didn't get it.”
Bissonette's concern stems from a lack of consistency and the apparent arbitrariness with which the CDE rated the district's grant applications for the high-school roof project over the past three years.
“The fact that this time they decided to rate the high-school roof project lower than the Singing Hills project is absurd. It shows that the process is arbitrary, because there is no difference between each year with the project. It shows the level of subjectivity on the part of the BEST Board for determining their numeric rating. So that's one part of the bitter.”
In 2012, BEST ranked the high school project higher than the Singing Hills project, and both projects received awards contingent on voter approval of a bond measure in November 2013. Voters did not approve the measure, and the district forfeited the money. In 2014, both projects received identical scores, but just missed the cutoff for an award.
This year the CDE rounded out all possible outcomes by ranking the need at Singing Hills nearly nine points higher than for Elizabeth High School.
According to Bissonette, the roof inspector recommended by the CDE inspected both roofs in 2014 and rated the need for replacing the roof at the Elizabeth High School higher than that for Singing Hills, a fact included in the grant application.
Small districts get awards
The second part of the bitter for Bissonette was that the CDE awarded 50 percent of all available grant money to districts with a combined student enrollment of around 500. Of the $50 million available, these districts received $25 million.
He also questioned how the board prioritized need.
“The staff at Littleton has $2,000 more per student for their mill levy than we do and was rated higher than Elizabeth schools,” he said. “From my perspective, this is a tough pill to swallow after committing to allocate general fund resources as well as operating revenues for the next decade, to fix a problem that is not getting cheaper, that's not fixing itself.”
Though Littleton did not received a grant award, its application for “structural correction/system upgrades” scored higher than the new roof project in Elizabeth.
According to the CDE website, BEST funds are awarded by the Colorado Department of Education and are allocated based on the need for construction of new schools, general construction, or renovation of schools.
Scott Newell, director of CDE's division of capital construction, attributed the varied outcomes for the projects to member changes on the BEST board and the creation of a numeric evaluation tool.
The nine members of the BEST board serve staggered two-year terms, so the board has experienced a turnover of at least four members since the district's initial application in 2013.
The numeric tool introduced for last year's evaluation created 18 categories to score applications. In addition, applicants present their case to the board, which introduces a subjective element into the process. Newell also pointed out that the BEST board does not include school enrollment as a factor for awards
“We don't evaluate whether districts should be consolidated,” Newell said. “We consider the health and safety components, so each student can have an equal opportunity for a quality education.”
Forfeited money is typically returned to the CDE for use the following year, or if a specific project was designated as an alternate, the forfeited money is allocated to it.
As it stands today, the best-case scenario for a new roof at Elizabeth High School is in the summer of 2017, and that is contingent on a successful BEST application next year.
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