Falcon School District 49 knows change. The once-rural district has nearly doubled in size in seven years to more than 10,000 students. About 1,100 were added just last year.
More change is coming. Both assistant superintendents are leaving in June, as is interim superintendent Ronald Wynn. A new superintendent will arrive in July. Perhaps most important, three new board members — a majority — will be elected in November when three longtime incumbents reach their term limits. All this turnover comes as the district wrestles with crowded schools. School leaders — outgoing, incoming or remaining — have mixed views on what the changing of the guard could mean. Some say new people will bring new energy — a valuable commodity in an exhausting struggle over growth and development issues. For Assistant Superintendent Gene Logas, who decided to leave mostly because he grew discouraged, the people in charge will make little difference in a situation that he says is beyond the district’s control. “I think when you get to a point as an administrator where you don’t see any hope anymore, then I think it’s time to move on,” Logas said. Board President Paul Bryant, an exiting incumbent, worries that with all the board turnover, D-49 could become the next Colorado Springs School District 11. In the Pikes Peak region’s largest district, a politically polarized board has turned public meetings into spectacles. D-49, in northeast Colorado Springs and the community of Falcon, has become ground zero for the region’s growth. Administrators and board members find themselves in the middle of a debate that extends beyond buying textbooks or improving state test scores. School officials have pleaded with city and county officials to consider schools before approving development projects. They’ve solicited developers and voters for money. In both cases, they say, D-49 has gained little ground. Many voters are fed up with development and say it’s unfair to expect them to raise their taxes to pay for the crowded schools it creates. Developers counter that they alone should not pay for projects that benefit the whole community. City and county officials, meanwhile, require developers to help pay for roads and utilities, but not new schools. Voters have rejected tax increases for the past two years. Developers recently offered to collect voluntary impact fees to help pay for schools. The school board declined because of attached conditions. The board plans to ask voters for a tax increase again this year — in the same election in which three board seats will be decided. Several school officials, including the two board members who will remain after November, are optimistic. They hope new administrators and board members will bring new enthusiasm. But enthusiasm goes only so far, Logas said. The assistant superintendent of business and auxiliary services is leaving the district after seven years. He’ll manage finances for a school district in Champaign, Ill. “There will never be an administrator, there will never be a board of education, there will never be a superintendent that can solve the problem alone,” he said. Logas decided to leave when voters in November narrowly defeated a tax increase to build schools. In 20 years of public administration, Logas said he’s never encountered so much mistrust. D-49 residents pay less in school taxes than they did a decade ago, he said, citing an analysis by county Tax Assessor John Bass. The district has also delivered on construction projects at or below the projected costs. Yet people have openly told him they don’t trust him. “Not every government is wasteful,” he said. “Not every government is inefficient.” Until residents, developers, and city and county officials take responsibility for growth’s impact on schools, he believes, school leaders’ roles will be limited, regardless of who those leaders are. “Every day, we get closer to falling off the cliff,” he said. His hope is that D-49 employees, and the incoming administrators and board, will be persuasive enough to change the course before split schedules, year-round school, and football fields full of portable classrooms become a reality. Assistant Superintendent Barbara Day, who said this year that she is moving to Arizona for personal reasons, said finding classroom space will be the overriding task for whoever takes over. El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce, a critic of the district’s ballot question last November, said the district’s plea for money to build schools is unfounded. He believes schools can be built without higher taxes, and he is urging people to run for the school board who will quit asking voters for more money. Bruce wants to reduce salaries and jobs and divert the savings toward construction. He said he does not plan to push a specific group of candidates but would endorse anyone who shares his views. That worries Bryant, who with Judy Holman and Carol Chapman will leave the board after two terms. “People don’t become a superintendent because they have an ax to grind, but people will become a board member because they have an ax to grind,” Bryant said. Despite the changes, Steven Hull, the superintendent who will start in July, is confident about the district’s future. He spent Monday and Tuesday touring schools and meeting teachers and staff members. “We obviously have a lot of change going on, but amid that change there’s a lot of stability,” he said. D-49 is staffed with highly qualified people, he said, and he will have a hand in hiring administrators to replace Day and Logas. “There’s a great deal of momentum,” he said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0198 or firstname.lastname@example.org