Jeffco continues Outdoor Lab support through 3A, 3B

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For 54 years the Outdoor Education Laboratory Program has taken students out of the classroom to teach them lessons in nature.

With voters’ approval of ballot issues 3A and 3B in November, Outdoor Lab will continue to receive support from Jefferson County Public Schools and keep the lessons going.

In March 2011, progam leaders faced the possibility of shutting down the program as part of Jeffco Public Schools’ budget-reduction program. Through a community fundraising effort, which was matched by district funds to generate about $625,000, the program was kept going for the 2011-12 school year.

Outdoor Lab is a one-week program offered to all sixth-graders in the district . During the overnight camp-like experience, children learn science lessons and their real-world applications in a natural setting.

The program has a sustainability agreement with the district to provide $350,000 in funding in 2012 and $325,000 for 2013, said Shannon Hancock, executive director of the Outdoor Lab Foundation.

“What 3A did was solidify that money and solidify that the lab schools will get the $325,000 next year,” Hancock said. “If it had not passed, that money would be gone, and the foundation would have to make up the difference.”

Outdoor Lab is not receiving any additional funds through the approval of the $39 million mill levy override known as 3A. Funding from 3A will be used for the school district’s day-to-day operations, educational programs, maintenance, salaries and supplies.

The $99 million bond package, known as 3B, will help fund maintenance for the district, including work at the two outdoor lab locations, Mt. Evans Outdoor Laboratory School at 201 Evans Ranch Rd. in Evergreen and Windy Peak Outdoor Laboratory School in Bailey.

“Outdoor Lab has $2.3 million in deficiencies, which is maintenance and repairs at both sites,” Hancock said. “Our agreement with the district was, because the amount is so high, they would perform the repairs on an as-needed basis and we’d pay it back over 10 years. With 3B, they are paying for repairs upfront. It gave us breathing room.”

Although Jeffco Schools will still support Outdoor Lab because of 3A and 3B, the program is still facing deep cuts next year. The program is funded in part by Jeffco Schools, tuition, city contributions and the Outdoor Lab Foundation.

In 2012, Outdoor Labs had to cut its $2 million budget by 15 percent, or $329,000; in 2013, the budget will be cut by 5 percent, or $105,000.

“The goal of 3A and 3B was to put a stop to the very deep, deep cuts,” Hancock said of the ballot measures’ effects on the school district as a whole. “It’s kept things where they were. The U.S. is looking at a fiscal cliff, and the district is looking at an equivalent. It’s so awesome that voters saw education as a priority. It helps everybody.”