A few words of thanksgiving

Recently I had an opportunity to meet with resort community superintendents from across the western United States. In speaking with leaders from Jackson Hole, Crested Butte, Sun Valley, and Telluride, I gained perspective about what separates our community from others.

Few get to experience the network of support comparable to what we enjoy in Eagle County. We are fortunate and grateful to have such a supportive community that prioritizes education for all.

We are wrapping up three years of construction and renovation made possible by Eagle County voters who approved general obligation bonds by voting for 3B in 2016. Our schools are safer, brighter, and more connected than ever before. We have replaced high-mileage school buses and made sure that all students have access to computers and technology.

We also have made improvements in working conditions by increasing salaries, decreasing class sizes, restoring programs, and ensuring all students have access to school counselors. These changes were made possible with voter support of 3A, a mill levy override, in 2016. 3A sunsets in 2023, but as our progress has shown, the local investment is essential to maintaining quality schools. The state has made a few adjustments to its funding formula but is still requiring schools to rely on local support, so the future renewal of 3A will become critical for our continuing success.

Since the recession, state funding, though increasing a little each year, is still way below the funding established by Amendment 23, with legislators legally reducing funding with the inclusion of a negative factor into their formula, which they call budget stabilization. This reduction has cost Eagle County Schools over $60 million since 2009-10. The 3A mill levy override helps to offset this loss in funding and goes to our primary goal of attracting and retaining quality educators and support staff.

Local nonprofits contribute another layer of support. Walking Mountains Science Center, SOS, Mountain Youth, Mountain Recreation, Cycle Effect, Red Ribbon, Bright Future Foundation, YouthPower365, and Vail Valley Partnership all provide essential services for students. They pick up where Eagle County Schools stops and extend learning opportunities for all. The combination of great community schools and amazing after-school support and enrichment services leads to a robust and exciting student experience for our children.

We also enjoy significant support from local businesses. Among the most consistent partners are Vail Health, Vail Resorts, and the Gallegos Corporation. Students also receive substantial emotional support from Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, MindSprings, and the Hope Center. These organizations are critical to establishing a community-wide network of social-emotional supports for Eagle County youth. Dozens of other local companies have partnered with Eagle County Schools to provide internships and apprenticeships for local youth. They are helping create career-ready graduates who are prepared to make meaningful contributions to the workforce. 

Colorado Mountain College is another significant partner with the school district. The college developed a bachelor’s degree program for education that includes on-the-job internships in our schools and prepares future generations of teachers right here. We hired CMC’s entire first graduating class! In addition, we offer dual enrollment and advanced placement courses for students where they get college credit and high school credit, without parents having to pay for college tuition. Over 30% of our high school students take advantage of this unique offering.

I’m humbled to serve in a community so committed to creating an outstanding educational experience for our young people. Countless parents also volunteer in schools and participate in various programs supporting our schools directly and indirectly. Thank you for all you do to help our students succeed.

Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net