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As an embittered former politician (a long-forgotten city councilman) I should take some sour satisfaction in the extraordinary political ineptitude of School District 11.

I don't; I'm distressed, saddened, upset, and, most of all, mad as hell.

At this writing, the outcome of yesterday's board meeting is unknown, but whatever decision may be taken, this battle is not over. Indeed, the decision scarcely matters; the fact of the matter is that community sentiment against closure is so strong that no such decision can long stand.

Let's review the history of this debacle. After the voters rejected D-11's proposed mill levy increase last fall, the administration concluded that they'd have to pare $5 million from the budget. Citizen input was sought, in order to determine what measures would be most acceptable to the community. Those who participated in the poll overwhelmingly rejected school closures, but they did support 'closing inefficient buildings.' In a stunningly disingenuous move, D-11 concluded that this meant that citizens supported closing schools that were in 'inefficient' buildings.

Oh, come on! I'll bet that the majority of the respondents had the central administration building in mind when they answered, not schools.

So now we're forced to sit through this absurd charade, and watch D-11 do its best to throw away the goodwill that the district has painfully accumulated over the years. And all for naught, since there are alternatives that make far more sense than school closure.

The simplest, and fairest, is simply to spread out the necessary cuts on a system-wide basis. Obviously, every school, every teacher, and every administrator would suffer, but that'd be far better than making five schools, and their neighborhoods, bear all the costs of the District's incompetence.

But suppose that the Board slavishly goes along with the administration's recommendations, and starts the closure process? The outcomes are multiple, and predictable.

Delia Armstrong-Busby, despised by the administration and by the teacher's union, will, because of her opposition to closure, gain enormous power.

Every Board member who votes for closure will be recalled, and the recall votes may well succeed.

Whatever the outcome, it'll be difficult for Ken Burnley and his administrative team to keep their jobs. Large-district superintendents rarely last more than four or five years, and Ken's been here for nearly fifteen. Once named national superintendent of the year, Ken's had a great run, but it may be just about over.

Successful recalls would mean a very different Board, whose members would not be tied to CSEA, to the business community, or to the local political establishment.

The current Board has principally considered cost-cutting measures, rather than looking at ways to get more money. Here are a couple of mischievous (and entirely serious!) suggestions:

Every year, the City of Colorado Springs extracts an enormous payment (last year $20 million) from Utilities as a so-called 'payment in lieu of tax.' This is supposed to compensate the city for tax revenue that it would receive from a private company delivering the same services. In fact, that's a legal fiction. The city is far from the only tax-collecting entity around; if it were truly a payment in lieu of taxes (property, sales and income), it'd be divided among the school districts, the county, and the state.

Maybe it's time for D-11 to take off the gloves and try to get the city to cough up; a few feathers at 30 South Nevada might be ruffled, but so what?

There are a number of tax-exempt institutions within the bounds of D-11 whose presence substantially impacts school property tax revenues, such as Colorado College, Penrose Hospital, Memorial Hospital and the Olympic Training Center. It wouldn't be without precedent to ask them to make an annual voluntary contribution to the district as, for example, Yale University does to the city of New Haven.

The district ought to immediately cease its participation in any tax incentive program designed to benefit relocating companies. Should a school district facing a $5 million shortfall be giving tax breaks to Intel?

We're at a crossroads; either D-11 will avoid closures and renew itself, or one of the finest inner-city school districts in America will self-destruct.

-- letters@csindy.com

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