The El Paso County Colorado School District 49 spans 133 square miles of urban and rural areas and serves more than 21,000 students, according to the district’s website. Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer for D 49, said that number is up from about 6,000 students in 2000.
Effects of population growth Part 3
Student growth: How is D 49 adapting?
By Lindsey Harrison
How is the district adapting to the population growth it has already seen, and can it handle the anticipated growth in the future?
Almeida said much of the population growth D 49 has already experienced can be attributed to the Guided Online Academic Learning Academy, which serves students across Colorado. However, taking out the GOAL Academy population, the district has grown by about 10,000 students since 2000 and is growing faster than any other district in El Paso County, he said.
To accommodate so many students, Almeida said D 49 generally follows the flow of development, building schools where the new houses are being built.
“It is definitely a challenge because the district has to stay ahead of the student population without getting too far ahead,” he said. “We do not want a building to sit half-empty because we built it too soon or get behind, either.”
While the question of timing school construction can be difficult, Almeida said the district is doing well with it and has already built two new elementary schools with the 3B mill levy override money it received from the ballot measure in 2016 –- Bennett Ranch Elementary School and Inspiration View Elementary School.
“We feel pretty good that we are following what we have committed to voters to follow, the initiatives we said we would,” he said. Often, community members express that they would like to see progress on building happen more quickly, but Almeida said once the money for a new school has been secured, it takes about two years to get that school built.
The next construction project the district plans to undertake is an expansion of the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence facility to accommodate the Pikes Peak Early College program, which was located in the district’s Creekside Success Center, he said. Both programs will be co-located on that campus, which will allow for more students to enroll in PPEC, Almeida said. Although that expansion has not yet been constructed, PPEC has moved into the existing SSAE building and the two programs are currently sharing the space, he said.
“If things go well, within the 2020-2021 school year, the expansion should open and we should be able to take in more students,” Almeida said.
A middle school is slated as the next major construction project the district will begin, although the location of that school has yet to be determined, he said. Although several locations and land options have been considered, the most pressure for a middle school appears to be somewhere along the Woodmen Road corridor, depending on the population growth in that area, Almeida said.
“We see the need to be somewhere in that central portion of the district, but we do not have the land decided on yet,” he said.
There are other charter schools applications in the pipelines, which could result in additional schools, and the district is constantly working in coordination with those charter organizations, Almeida said. It is possible that additional charter schools will be built in the next two to four years, he said.
An increase in student population means an increase in students needing transportation to and from school, and D 49 is adjusting to that need by adding routes and buses to its current fleet, Almeida said.
“We had approximately 57 routes in the 2017-2018 school year, including both general education routes and special education routes,” he said. “Last year, we had 65 routes and this year, we are anticipating jumping up to approximately 73 routes. That is a pretty significant increase.”
The district has added 18 buses to its fleet since the 2017-2018 school year, which Almeida said sounds like more buses than necessary, but buses for daily routes are only part of the equation. With field trips and the need for spare buses in case something happens to one of the regular route buses, the jump from 86 buses to 104 was crucial, he said.
“We want to maximize the efficiency of our fleet and provide as much bus service to the district as we can,” Almeida said. The buses are currently running three routes each day; they run an elementary route, middle school route and high school route, and then do the same in the afternoons to take kids home, he said.
But buses require space to park and 18 more buses means 18 more parking spaces are needed, Almeida said. The “bus barn” on Woodmen Road is running out of space; and, with more students entering the district, additional maintenance and parking space will be needed, he said.
More buses also require more drivers, and there is a national shortage of bus drivers; and D 49 is not immune to those effects, Almeida said.
“When the economy is strong, there are less folks interested in driving buses and we have to compete for those people,” he said. “We have been able to keep pace with the growth, but there is constantly an effort to recruit drivers and that will certainly be a long-term need.”
As with bus drivers, there is a national shortage of teachers in general, but most specifically in the special education and math departments, said Sue Holmes, Falcon zone leader.
“There is a shortage I think because teaching is really hard work,” she said. “It has been well-promoted the last few years across the country and especially in Colorado that teachers are underpaid. When high school and college students think about their majors, they think about where they can make a decent living. Someone with a degree in mathematics can make a whole lot more money doing something other than teaching math.”
Additionally, the special education department is one of the most litigious areas in teaching because so much of what teachers must or must not do is legally mandated, Holmes said. Couple that with a high degree of burnout, and it is easy to see why that area is lacking qualified teachers, she said.
As one way to battle that challenge, Holmes said the district is currently offering a $1,000 signing bonus to any position in the special education department or mathematics department that they post. The district is also offering a tuition reimbursement program to paraprofessionals, many of whom work in special education, who are in school to become licensed teachers, she said.
“We have some difficulty filling our paraprofessional positions, which is due to a combination of things,” Holmes said. “It is not a super high-paying position and because they do not work during the summer, sometimes they may get another position that may fit their life or needs better.”
D 49 is unique in that the school year starts earlier than the other surrounding districts and that poses another challenge for finding teachers, she said. With the school year starting so early, it can be difficult to determine how many students will be in each classroom at each school, which then makes staffing those classrooms even more challenging, Holmes said. Pair that with the high number of military families in the district and that becomes even harder, she said.
“We have a significant amount of military, and it depends on when people get orders to move and that does not necessarily coincide with when school starts,” Holmes said.
Overall, Holmes said she is optimistic that D 49 will be able to keep up with the population growth in the area and the administration will continue to monitor student enrollment through the district’s central office to determine staffing needs.
Pull quote: “When high school and college students think about their majors, they think about where they can make a decent living. Someone with a degree in mathematics can make a whole lot more money doing something other than teaching math.”
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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System on the NHTSA’s website, Colorado currently ranks No. 2 in total number of fatal accidents involving road rage and aggressive driving.|
The Colorado Springs Police Department’s Annual Statistical Report on their website indicates accidents involving aggressive driving that CSPD responded to increased from 127 total crashes in 2015 to 239 in 2016; and fell a bit to 188 in 2017.
Lt. Jim Sokolik, public information officer with the CSPD, said tracking road rage incidents is difficult because there is no state statute that addresses the exact behavior; road rage incidents get lumped in with aggressive driving reports.
Trooper Gary Cutler with the Colorado State Patrol’s public affairs office wrote in an email to “The New Falcon Herald” that CSP also has trouble tracking road rage incidents for the same reason. However, he wrote, “I just know we have a lot of calls each month about bad driving.”
Those calls are made to the CSP’s Star CSP (*277) aggressive driver program launched on July 1, 1998, according to the CSP’s website. The program works with several cellular service providers to offer the phone number, free of charge, to motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists who want to report aggressive driving behavior in “real time,” the website states.
Sokolik said he always recommends that people report incidents of suspected road rage or aggressive driving because it comes down to a safety issue. “We advise people not to engage in road rage incidents,” he said. “Do not pull over and confront another driver. If someone is following you or acting in an erratic manner with their vehicle, the best idea is to move over and allow that driver to pass and then call the police department and report it. If possible, get the license plate and make of the car.”
Jacqueline Kirby, media relations manager with the El Paso County sheriff’s office, said information is critical and can help spur an investigation into a particular driver’s behavior. “Although the sheriff’s office does not track road rage incidents because we do not respond to traffic incidents, people can still call in to us with a license plate number,” she said. “If we get repeated complaints on a specific license plate, we can run the plate and have a deputy go out to that person’s home, depending on the egregiousness of the offense.”
It can be difficult to prove what type of behavior the other driver exhibited, which is why Kevin Campbell, a Falcon resident and business owner, said he became a dealer and installer of BlackVue dashboard cameras. He said he wants to be part of the solution rather than just complaining about the problem, and thinks dash cams could help curb road rage or aggressive driving incidents.
Part of the problem with road rage or aggressive driving incidents is that there is often no evidence to support the claim that something unlawful took place, he said. But having video evidence that shows exactly what happened can go a long way to holding that person accountable for their actions, Campbell said.
“The mindset of drivers is that there is no one of authority watching them,” Campbell said. “If there is a dash cam, then people will know what that person did. If you do something like flip someone off or yell at them and someone catches that on video, they can take you to court with that.”
The goal is simply to hold people accountable for their actions, he said. The BlackVue cameras are mounted behind a vehicle’s rear view mirror and can record even when the vehicle is not in use, which becomes useful for parking lot incidents, Campbell said.
“People have had to pay claims (on their car insurance) because there was no video evidence and they were not there to see what happened,” he said. “These cameras detect motion and impacts to the vehicle and create an ‘event’ in the files on the memory. You can look back at that file to see what happened and hopefully get a license plate number to report.”
Sokolik said with any type of crime, if the video tape allows the police department to establish probable cause that a person has violated a state statute or Colorado law, that person can receive a ticket for their behavior.
“We would probably need the person who took that video tape to talk to us to be part of that investigation,” he said. “We tell people not to send it out on Twitter and expect something to happen. We need to make contact with someone who witnessed that event, even if it is the person it happened to, and get their statement and explanation of what occurred.”
Aside from offering a 15 percent discount using the promo code “80831” for the first 50 people who visit his website –- https://dashcamsofcs.com –- and make a purchase, Campbell said he is in discussions with the insurance company he works for about offering discounts on car insurance premiums for people who have dash cams installed.
“Even the most expensive camera is likely less than your car insurance deductible,” he said. “If you are not the guilty party, you have got the evidence to prove that you are not responsible.”
Campbell said drivers should avoid making eye contact or using rude gestures, which can escalate any situation.
The bottom line will always be to steer clear of engaging in a road rage incident, Sokolik said. However, if someone feels like they are being threatened by another driver or are in danger, he said to call the police department and a dispatcher will usually direct that person to the nearest police substation.
“Do not engage with someone who is obviously trying to pick a fight,” Sokolik said.