Superintendent's Corner

Beyond the ‘raise rental rates’ headline

Let me begin by saying that Eagle County School District is grateful for the earned media coverage we receive from the Vail Daily. The reporters provide a tremendous service to our community in their coverage of youth sports, school accomplishments and district news.

However, on occasion, the headlines mislead the audience, take things out of context, and require further clarification. I’m grateful to the Vail Daily for providing us with this biweekly column to regularly update the community on the progress of Eagle County School District and provide clarification when needed.

In the Jan. 10 print edition, the Vail Daily ran an article headlined “School district to raise rental rates in July.” The article started by reminding readers that the Board of Education had just passed pay raises for all employees, then went on to explain that the board also passed a measure to increase rents on district-owned employee housing. The juxtaposition of the two created the impression that the district is running a company town, giving raises with one hand and taking them away with another.

I believe that important context was left out of the article, and feel that it is best to provide that for our community.

Affordable housing is one of the largest obstacles to recruiting and retaining staff in resort communities. When I took over as superintendent in 2019, the first thing I commissioned was a housing study, followed by the development and implementation of a 10-year Housing Master Plan. It was essential that we act fast, but do so with a well-informed and comprehensive plan to address the issue.

I’m proud to say we have made incredible progress on that plan in the past two years by significantly expanding master-leased units, partnering with Habitat for Humanity to construct affordable homes for staff to purchase in Gypsum and Eagle, and starting a 37-unit rental project in Edwards near Battle Mountain High School. That progress occurred concurrent to managing the impact of COVID-19 on our schools.

Beginning with the Edwards rental units, we decided to move away from the industry standard of linking the definition of “affordable” to AMI (average median income), and instead creating affordable rental rates using actual base salaries of district-certified employees. Our definition is the same used by mortgage bankers, which is that housing should only take 40% of gross income. This puts our rental rates at well below the market, especially considering we also include utilities.

What the Vail Daily article didn’t mention is that we have very few rentals in our current inventory. Eagle County School District owns and rents eight homes to date. Additionally, the newspaper didn’t explain that those units have always been rented on a one-year only basis. This means that none of the current residents will be subject to the rental increase, since their leases expire at the end of the school year, when the units are made available to new employees.

In regard to the lot rental at Maloit Park, those rates have been fixed since 2004. As maintenance and utility costs have increased over the years, the lot rental rates have not. Maloit Park, which has 15 lots with one additional lot in Gypsum, has remained at $300 per month. Compared to any other lot rental facility in Eagle County, this continues to be an amazing deal.

The board’s decision to increase rental rates provides consistency across all district rentals and helps pay for the construction of additional units, while still meeting a more realistic definition of “affordable” that is better than anything available on the open market. The district provided raises to over 1,000 employees, while eight homes will be impacted by rising rents come July.

We are committed to getting employee compensation as competitive as possible, and simultaneously creating more affordable housing options for our employees. That is our best recipe for recruiting and retaining quality employees and providing our kids with the best education possible.

I appreciate the letter to the editor published in the Vail Daily on Jan. 12 by Joe Kania, who requested a column to better explain the district’s actions. Community feedback and support are critical to the success of Eagle County Schools. My door is always open, and I’m available to hear concerns or provide explanations when needed.


Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net.