As Monument builds new homes and attracts more families, the Lewis-Palmer School District faces the challenge of providing quality education to a growing number of students. The issue of overcrowded classrooms was raised last week when the Board of Trustees briefly discussed a petition to expand Monument’s town limits by over 200 acres. The added property known as Willow Springs would be developed into a community of about 400 homes.
Board member Greg Coopman said the resulting population increase from the Willow Springs housing development would put pressure on local schools. He requested an analysis to determine how many new students the development would add to local schools and the fiscal impact the influx of students would have on the school district.
Land developer Daniel Brown, president of the Polo Brown Company, said the same amount of students will be attending those schools whether or not Willow Springs is annexed.
The board scheduled a public hearing for March 18 at town hall to gather community input on the annexation of the 200 acres. Last year, the board voted not to include the Willow Springs housing development within Monument’s town limits amid concerns that the new homes would strain Monument’s limited water supply.
Coopman said he’s concerned that the new students generated by the housing development would put pressure on the already crowded schools.
“It’s no surprise that we have a struggling school district in regards to the growth we’ve seen here in our community,” Coopman said at the meeting.
He told The Tribune that Monument must manage growth in a way that preserves quality education.
“How do we cater to existing students and future students?” he asked. “We have a lot of new students because of the growth we’ve been having.”
Matthew Clawson, president of the Lewis-Palmer Board of Education, shares Coopman’s concerns.
“The continued growth in Monument has resulted in larger class sizes and, in many instances, additional strain on students and teachers,” Clawson told The Tribune in an email. “The major reason people move to Monument is because of our high-performing schools. D-38 has been ranked as the third top-rated district in the state. We need to address the capacity issues if we hope to continue to provide our top-rated educational program and retain our teachers.”
Lewis-Palmer has explored various ways to make room for a growing student population. One short-term solution would be converting existing spaces like amphitheaters into classrooms, as discussed at a Board of Education meeting in May. The more permanent solution is to build new schools. Clawson said the school district will be adding modular classrooms in the 2019-20 school year to make room for the increasing number of students.
“Modular units create safety issues and don’t provide a strong learning environment,” Clawson said.
Coopman said it would be beneficial for the Board of Trustees to get input from the school district regarding the proposed housing development’s impact on education. Clawson said he’s open to having those discussions.
“I am very interested in sitting down and discussing with the Board of Trustees the developmental effects the overcrowding has on our students and how to address our capacity issues,” Clawson said.
The Polo Brown Company negotiated with the school district for several months. In the end, the developer granted the school district five acres of land. According to Brown, the school district plans to use the extra acreage to add needed amenities for its students.
Brown said the five acres given to the school district contained 28 of the best estate lots in the Willow Springs development. He estimates that granting the five acres to the school district cost his company over $1 million.
“We have tried to do things that help Monument and help the school district,” Brown said.
Brown said that denying new development is not the answer to maintaining schools in Monument. The answer, he said, is to educate the public on the importance of supporting funding measures that will allow schools to provide students with quality education. Saying “no” to new development isn’t the answer, he said.
“This development isn’t the problem,” Brown said. “There’s a need for funding for schools … It’s not about saying no to everyone else, it’s about figuring out a way to fund education and growing in a proper way.”